Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Steven Spielberg
Cinematographer: Janusz Kamiński
Producer: Steven Spielberg, Kristie Macosko Krieger, and Amy Pascal
by Jon Cvack
Katharine rejects publishing any of the Pentagon Papers, as given the terms of the agreement, even though the paper’s IPO had rolled out, the banks could rescind the agreement in the event of a “catastrophic problem” - such as having the Nixon administration sue their paper into silence. The case quickly makes it way to the Supreme Court when a reporter Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk; also in a phenomenal role) tracks down Ellsberg who then hands him nearly a thousand pages of The Pentagon Papers. The Post is then contacted by Nixon’s Attorney General, who demands they stop printing any additional material, as given the nature of their lawsuit with the New York Times and given that the papers are from the same source, all newspapers are subject to the same gag order. Katharine is then forced to make a decision - either to publish and risk her entire business and all of its employees, or to concede to the order, and remain a paper focused primarily on gossip.
What makes the movie work so well is its focus on the smaller moments, sacrificing the larger John Le Carre thriller of a story and taking a more intimate look at a woman struggling to define herself in a male dominated world, surrounded by those ranging from acting in their own self interested to that of the public’s demand for truth, and everything in-between. It’s interesting to see the script hemmed by a younger woman named Liz Hannah who avoided painting a beneficent and assertive female executive (as these roles often seem to drift toward), but rather a complex person, struggling to honor her grandfather and husband’s legacy, while doing what’s best for her employees and the country as a whole. Again I want to award the statue to Meryl Streep who’s able to add the smallest level of nuance, drifting between her role as the CEO who needs to laugh and make good decisions, and that of someone who wants to take risk and preserve control, nervous that she doesn’t have what it takes. To have a powerhouse like Meryl Streep allow herself to initially appear so timid and vulnerable is a testament to her strength and why she’ll go down as one of the greatest of all time.
The story’s relevancy might be a bit too on the nose in an age where Trump is giving out Fake News awards and a man threatens to shoot all of CNN's employees dead because of it, but I think it’ll age finely, capturing the spirit of this era rather than the man. It also makes me think back to John Adams’ Alien and Sedition Act in 1798, criminalizing any false or overly critical statements about the federal by an American citizen; not even ten years after our constitution was ratified. Lincoln had also punished dissident reporters. Nixon’s act was nothing new; it simply met a more powerful foe. I imagine today’s Supreme Court would have voted in favor of Nixon, believing that it jeopardized national security, as the conservative talking point has been for every major leak of the 21st century - and it works like a charm. Paradise Papers being the most recent example. No one cares what’s in them. They only believe that confidential business documents were leaked.
It goes on to demonstrate what a newspaper provides; deconstructing information in clear, efficient, and objective ways to read that can be understood by the general public. It’s frightening that those services don’t exist anymore. In an era where both the news is being challenged and it seems as though no one can consume enough of the Donald Trump Saga, it makes you wonder what would have happened if more newspapers had survived. To think the New York Times and Washington Post, while once considered to have a liberal tinge are now reputed as far left fake news machines is ridiculous; to think the same applies to NBC (not MSNBC), ABC, CBS, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, or even The National Review is absolutely mind blowing. A significant amount of conservatives genuinely do not trust any of these sources. There is Fox News, Breitbart, and other right wing sources and which provides the only reality they know. What I find most frightening about Trump is that he’s normalizing dangerous behavior. I can’t imagine how many politicians, or even businessmen, are thinking of how easy it’d be to manipulate the masses so long as they remain disciplined, articulate, and respectful. For the first time, I truly believe the right combination of intelligence, charm, and radicalism could do irrevocable harm to our country.
The Bill of Rights is such a simple document that we often take for granted. To think that Britain doesn’t have a constitution just goes to show what we are guaranteed. The right to free speech shall not be infringed is within America’s DNA, and yet as past presidents have attempted to rescind or revise that idea, it’s fundamental idea has been preserved for over 250 years. But our government is a forever evolving body, where the right combination of the three branches can impede on that right, even if ever so slightly, as over time it could slowly corrode. A phrase I love that I used to hear in rural Indiana is, “I may not agree with what you say, but I’ll fight for your right to say it.” I’m sure we didn’t have the same politics, but at least we agreed on that right. Most politicians resent the press, as a mixture of small details and filtered or rehearsed responses start painting a story that drifts from the truth, though as John McCain declared, it is nevertheless an important institution in providing a fair and democratic country.
The one thing they didn’t anticipate was a world in which you could surround yourself with only what reinforces a particular world view; where it’s playing 24/7 and contains more information than you could ever consume. The Post shows individuals willing to stand up and fight for the right to speech, but as it’s entire mission is increasingly rejected by half the country, it makes you wonder whether we could ever again agree on what truth is. It’s such a fundamental question that’s so easy to understand by half the country and so difficult by the other. I wish I could be optimistic; hopeful that there will be a way beyond this, but I really don’t know what the resolve is. I’m not sure the trust could ever be restored, so much as demonstrating that perhaps better policies will produce enough tangible results to outdo any fake news coverage that’s trying to convince otherwise. It’s between the lines that a great movie makes you think long after and The Post has left me thinking about the delicate state of our free speech for a long time.
BELOW: And your obligatory investigative thriller newspaper printing scene
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