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Red Sparrow

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Red Sparrow

Spielberg. Streep. Hanks.

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The Post ♔ ♕ ♚ 1/2

Hanks, Streep, Spielberg…what more do you need?

Steven Spielberg’s The Post might be set in 1971 but wow, does it feel 2017.

This is a movie about journalism done at an elegant clip; a time before ‘fake’ news, when integrity and story-delivery went hand-in-hand. And if it didn’t, then this movie signifies the beginning of the end. Maybe newspapers haven’t had that much power in actually decades.

What and who is the power behind what we read in the paper?  Yesterday or today.  Isn’t speaking the truth the most important issue when it comes to freedom of speech?

Spielberg seems to have found the convenience of making this a film with a message.  And, a necessary one.  This is a big city newspaper and how it works; much different than small town where the headline might read ‘Dolphin Caught in Fisherman’s Net.’

Meryl Streep portrays Katherine Graham, publisher of the Washington Post.  When we first meet Graham, she’s at breakfast with her Executive Editor, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) advising her about the sale of the paper.  The company is selling for 1.3 million at $28.50 a share, and they’re cash poor.  They need the offers to continue to grow…to improve. Heck, explains Ben, “you’re losing female readership.”

Apparently, Graham’s father gave the paper to her husband, Phil, but he committed suicide. She’s now the accidental boss lady.  She’s not supposed to be here. She doesn’t have the resolve to run a paper.  She bleeds margins.  And she hears all of this from Arthur Parsons (Bradley Whitford) from behind closed doors.  Graham’s been warned that this has to be run as a bigger paper not a little family business.Graham’s society friends even inquire as to how she keeps up with her socializing when she has this ‘day’ job!  Good grief.

Graham found herself standing up to a suppressive government, rising to the occasion (as only a Streep-performance can) and printing highly classified Pentagon papers.   These papers, found by journalist, Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), unveil info going back to 1950 with Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, all the way to Johnson and involving the Viet Nam war. Ellsberg had been an analyst on the ground in Viet Nam working for the RAND corporation before leaking the documents to the New York Times in June 0f ’71.  Worst of all is the knowledge that the government knew the Viet Nam war was a losing battle from the get-go.

Nixon blocked further printing by the Times, so Ellsberg turned to Graham’s Post. This was a paper that up until now rubbed polite shoulders with politicians.  It was a time when politicians and press dined together to protect and formulate ‘real’ news.  Can you be a source and be a friend?   Was this illegal or was it raising the Post’s platform? 

Either way with high stakes conspiracy, political secrets, and Spielberg’s mastery skills at the helm, we’re in for a ride that will eventually lead to Watergate. (The best ‘gotcha’ moment of the film is the last twenty seconds when we have an idea of ‘what’s to come’ by yet an even bigger historical moment.)

Spielberg’s attention to detail and aesthetic – the language – “bread crumb leads,” leaks, manual typewriters, copy machines and old-fashioned telephones that ring from a wall attached to a cord. The person answering the phone and dangling the cord, may have to figure out how to make a call (from a phone booth) in order to have a confidential chat.

Spielberg’s camera works such precision it’s like we’re in the newsroom, rounding a desk, the urgent clanking of typewriter keys, and the accidentally banging our thigh on the corner of the file cabinet.  This is an incredible feat considering it’s a talky movie of guys in rolled up shirtsleeves and ties.

Josh Singer (Spotlight) is joined by first time writer Liz Hannah as they detail the emotions of the newsroom and the power of the press. A balance of the up-front-and-personal and the behind the scenes.  But they could have lightened up on the smoking scenes.

Will this resonate with today’s younger audiences?  Sure.  A mean-spirited President seems to be right up our alley.  And if Spielberg’s Lincoln or even Munich were any indication of his historical chops, this one should follow in their footsteps.

Hanks delivers a solid and dignified portrayal as Ben Bradlee in some fairly tense scenes.  Not since Robert Redford has anyone delivered an All The President’s Men performance, though the tone of this film is different.  It relies heavily on recreating history where as the former, felt like we were living it as the scandal broke.

The beauty of Streep’s performance (is there any other type?) is that her position in the paper grows from inherited wealth to one of feminist edge.  We watch Streep’s performance and power emerge and explode to I-am-woman-with-a-newspaper-hear-me-roar.

In the end it’s a rather sad movie/turn of events.  It’s the study of democracy and the good-ole-days of newspapers, as power and voice attempt to ring with truth. Or lack thereof.   Sound familiar?  4 tiaras

 

 

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