Alfred Hitchcock once noted that Steven Spielberg “is the first one of us who doesn’t see the proscenium arch,” referring to his ability to expand the visual and metaphorical limits of what could be displayed on a screen. The late-career political films of Spielberg would already be remarkable on their own terms, even if they weren’t the work of one of cinema’s most famous and defining voices. Lincoln was an on-the-nose, yet clever examination of political obstructionism against the struggle for progress. Bridge of Spies was released amid a growing tide of isolationism among many Americans, and the film explores the depths of the Cold War, when that sentiment ran deep, while taking a step back from the notion of good guys versus bad to focus on shared human values.
Now with The Post recounting the fight to release the groundbreaking Pentagon Papers—in a post-truth age—we see that Spielberg, the man who helped define the modern blockbuster, has more than crowd-pleasing on his mind.
PG–13, 115 minutes
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX, Violet Crown Cinemas
The Post stars Meryl Streep as Washington Post owner Katharine Graham, and Tom Hanks as editor Ben Bradlee. Both are facing the pressure of lagging sales and the lack of good leads. Bradlee is the sort of fire-spitting warrior who will burn the place to the ground in pursuit of the truth, a position at odds with Graham, who grew up in high society and maintains friendships with powerful people whose truth needs pursuing.
Upon learning that former defense department analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) has a treasure trove of documents revealing that the U.S. government had been lying to the public about its involvement in the Vietnam War, seeking validity for the Post becomes a battle for the very soul of journalism. The story cannot go unpublished, yet it is not a straight line from acquiring information to printing it. Graham’s relationship with Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood), her responsibility to her shareholders and the possible legal blowback that would sink the whole business stand in the way.
As with his previous historical dramas, Spielberg creates an incredible atmosphere that is as much a part of the story as the narrative. Graham took control of the paper following her husband’s suicide; that fact, combined with routinely being the only woman in stockholder meetings, means she is marginalized at an institution that supposedly belongs to her. Streep delivers an excellent performance, as her character navigates how to best live up to her role and her values while carrying the weight of a lifetime in the shadow of powerful men. Bradlee’s truth-to-power credentials are also challenged, as he is confronted with his past friendship with John F. Kennedy, who, as president, Bradlee ought to have challenged.
It is easy to pass judgment on historical figures who appear either brave or cowardly in retrospect. It is another thing entirely to be in the moment, balancing every factor with no knowledge of the outcome. Every decision that we now recognize as right or wrong needed to be made in real time by real people with personal strengths and weaknesses. So what is it like to be that person? The Post explores this question and more while making inspiring and troubling parallels to the present day, and is one of 2017’s best films, as well as perhaps Spielberg’s bravest.
Playing this week
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema
377 Merchant Walk Sq., 326-5056
The Greatest Showman, I, Tonya, Molly’s Game, Paddington 2, Magnolia, The Shape of Water, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Zombi 3
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX
The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213
All the Money in the World, Coco, The Commuter, Darkest Hour, Ferdinand, The Greatest Showman, Insidious: The Last Key, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Molly’s Game, Paddington 2, Pitch Perfect 3, Proud Mary, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Wonder
Violet Crown Cinema
200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000
The Commuter, Darkest Hour, The Greatest Showman, I, Tonya, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Molly’s Game, The Shape of Water, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri