Movie: The Post
Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)
Review: By 1968 the United States was heavily committed to keeping a large military force in Vietnam to prop up the corrupt South Vietnamese government, and ostensibly to defeat the North Vietnamese insurgents. Despite optimistic reports to the press of American progress towards victory, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) commissioned a detailed study by the Rand Corp. to assess the true picture of the war in Vietnam. One of the people working on the document was a former marine officer and special assistant in the Defense Department Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), who had spent two years in Vietnam and was very familiar with how the war was proceeding. In short, Ellsberg advised his bosses that the war was at best a stalemate.
By 1971 Ellsberg has had an epiphany; his conscience dictated that he needed to take action to bring the war to a close, or at least let the public know the real truth of American involvement in Vietnam. With access to the Top Secret 7000 page document that came to be known as the Pentagon Papers, Ellsberg made copies. Going underground and staying on the lam to avoid arrest, Ellsberg managed to get a portion of the Pentagon Papers to NY Times reporter Neil Sheehan (Justin Swain). Rumors of this explosive story carried its way to Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), executive editor of the Washington Post, and Bradlee was determined to get the story as well. Despite words of caution from Post owner and publisher Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep), Bradlee’s reporters got themselves into the game with the rival NY Times, and stories about the truth of America’s involvement were published in newspapers for all the world to see. Naturally the Nixon White House was enraged, and triggered the most important discussion and legal battles in history concerning the freedom of the press as defined in the First Amendment.
This is a milestone film. It is a taunt, well constructed narrative depicting real events that are critical to American history. It is both a suspenseful film, and an inspirational story without being preachy or heavy-handed. The acting is top notch with an all star cast. Besides Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, both likely candidates for Best Actor and Best Actress Oscar nominations, Bob Odenkirk and Matthew Rhys are major assets that upped the level of talent in this production. The film is not only hugely entertaining to watch, it is a riveting story that needed to be told. And yes, it has the additional merit of being timely, as once again government forces are assaulting the press with accusations of “fake news”. Go see this movie. For my money, it deserves to win the Best Picture Oscar.
Mini Trailers: JFK Speech – “The United States, as the world knows, will never start a war.”
Bradlee – “Tell the other papers that the only way to protect the right to publish is to publish.”
Kate Graham – “The Nixon White House is nothing if not vindictive.”
Bradlee – “We are sucking hind tit in our own back yard. Let’s do our job. Find those pages.”
Nixon – “As far as the Times goes, hell, they’re our enemies.”
Graham – “If a federal judge stops the Times, I don’t see how we could publish, even if we get a copy.”
Post Reporter – “They’re going to lock you up, Dan!” Ellsberg – “Wouldn’t you go to prison to stop this war?”
Bradlee – “If we don’t hold them accountable, then my God, who will?” Graham – “We can’t hold them accountable if we don’t have a newspaper!”
Graham – “How could you do all these things and lie to us all?” McNamara – “We were trying to drive Ho Chi Minh to the bargaining table. Our decision making process was…” Graham – “Flawed.”
Bradlee – “If we don’t publish we lose, the country will lose. If we don’t publish Nixon will win, and he’ll win the next one and the next one.”
Graham – “This is no longer my father’s company, it is no longer my husband’s company, it is my company. Anyone who doesn’t understand that probably shouldn’t serve on the board.”
Nixon – “I want it understood that no reporter from the Washington Post will ever be in the White House again.”
The Defense of the First Amendment: Justice Black of the Supreme Court wrote the decision that vindicated the Post and the Times to print their stories:
In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. }The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell. … [W]e are asked to hold that … the Executive Branch, the Congress, and the Judiciary can make laws … abridging freedom of the press in the name of ‘national security.’ … To find that the President has ‘inherent power’ to halt the publication of news … would wipe out the First Amendment and destroy the fundamental liberty and security of the very people the Government hopes to make ‘secure.’ … The word ‘security’ is a broad, vague generality whose contours should not be invoked to abrogate the fundamental law embodied in the First Amendment.