The Post: an astonishing cliché

February 2, 2018

One day I was wandering in the lobby of a cinema in Cambridge, trying to pick a movie. “The Shape of Water” was sold out and even though I was deeply impressed by the performance of Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour” is not really worth a second ticket. So I decided to watch “The Post.” Starring two over-the-hill actors: Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, and directed by Steven Spielberg, “The Post” was a movie I would not regret taking a trip to the restroom during. It might just be another version of “Spotlight,” which I considered overrated. Surrounded by a few viewers in their 70s, the political cliché began. With the exquisite performance of Streep and Hanks, as well as the display of the first few magnificent long-shots, I took back my contempt.

The story begins with cruel scenes of the Vietnam war, contrasting these with the saponaceous politicians giving equivocal speeches towards the war. Daniel Ellsberg, a military analyst at the time, photocopies the Pentagon Papers and secretly discloses them to the New York Times. An assistant editor of the Washington Post, Ben Bagdikian, tracks down the source of the Times (Ellsberg), who later provides him the photocopies of the Pentagon Papers. This reveals that the U.S. government had secretly increased the scale of Vietnam War. Given the nature of the Pentagon Papers, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), the chief editor of the Washington Post, risks being accused of disclosure of state secrets if he publishes the materials. But with the support from the newspaper’s heiress Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep), Ben manages to publish the papers against the unanimous oppositions of other leaders of the newspaper. Although being accused, the case goes up to the Supreme Court and the result is in the newspapers’ favor.

When Meryl Streep was again (and again and again…) nominated this year by the Academy Award for best actress, I wasn’t impressed. The movie persuaded me, however, that she is worth more than a nomination. Streep portrays Katharine, who succeeds the company after her husband committed suicide. Surrounded by men, her talent and ability are suppressed by her lack of confidence. Streep, with her special amiable appearance, stunningly enriched the character with abundant details in terms of manners, the way she talks and even microexpressions.

Streep showed the weak side of Katharine in the first half, which set off her tenacity in the latter part of the movie. All the arrogant men surrounding her disapprove of her decision to publish the Pentagon Papers due to the catastrophic consequences it might bring, except Ben. Katherine shows her decisiveness and supports Ben. She believes her newspaper “is dedicated to the welfare of the nation and the principles of the free press,” risking her own company.

On the other hand, Ben is a combination of calmness and passion. With years of experience in publishing as well as professional integrity, he plays a crucial role in publishing the materials that could very likely cost him his job or even send him to jail. If Meryl Streep is like a cat, Tom Hanks is like a lion, thoughtful but competent.

The interactions between Streep and Hanks drew most of my attention throughout the movie. The first scene where they appear together is my personal favorite. In this scene, Ben shows a slight sense of superiority when meeting with Katharine, who seems unconfident even though she owns the company. Such slight pride without disrespect is subtly performed by Hanks.

Entertainment Weekly’s Chris Nashawaty compares “The Post” with the previous movie on Watergate Scandal—“All The President’s Men,” saying “The Post” is “actively helping to untangle a story” instead of “having a story passively displayed.” Throughout the movie, there are no complicated storylines or abstruse scenes. Everything is relatively direct, but simultaneously powerful. If you are looking for an exciting drama which does not require too much meditation, “The Post” is not to be missed.

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