This (partial) amendment has been around for literally two hundred years.
And then some.
So, these words are far from new. They’ve been memorized in classrooms; they’ve been recited in courtrooms. And now, front and center his latest flick, Steven Spielberg shines a light on these words and the depth of everything for which they stand.
And then some.
This one isn’t prefaced with those four magical words – based on true events – but that’s because it doesn’t need to be.
The story in “The Post” is as familiar as the First Amendment and opens smack in the midst of the Vietnam War, 1966, when there were things going on about which the American public had no idea.
That is, until analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) – that purposeful slow zoom hinting that he understands what’s happening – decides to photocopy (lookit that copier!!) a whole gaggle of highly classified documents.
You’ve probably heard of them; they’re better known as the Pentagon Papers, and they threatened to reveal that the government had “deeply mislead the country on the Vietnam War” to the point that “they knew we couldn’t win, but they still sent boys off to die.”
Damning? Oh, for sure!
The New York Times publishes an expose on “the most highly classified papers on the Vietnam War,” only to be subsequently silenced by Richard Nixon’s administration. And basically, any newspaper that dares to print more from these papers faces similar consequences.
What’s a little newspaper like The Washington Post to do? Especially when it’s in the process of making big, public business decisions, and there are questions abound regarding its leadership?
Publisher Katherine “Kay” Graham (Meryl Streep, a likely Oscar nominee – duh!) and Editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) certainly have their work cut out.
“The way they lied. The way they lied… those days have to be over,” Bradlee insists. “We have to be the check on their actions.”
Because, I mean… that’s what newspapers do. And like it or not, that’s precisely why we need them.
The choice to publish or not ultimately will determine Kay’s reputation – and possibly her freedom; there’s understandable concern about The Post facing the same fate as the New York Times, about what the banks will do, about, y’know, treason.
And while Hanks’ character has some killer lines one of his most profound is also one of the film’s most legitimate arguments: “If we live in a world where the government tells us what we can and cannot print, then The Washington Post has already ceased to exist.”
Buckle up, kids.
Having worked at a newspaper for 15 years, I was fascinated to compare the newsroom and processes in this flick against what I had been around for a decade and a half.
It was impressive to see these old-school techniques in full swing: the constant clicking and drumming sounds of the typewriters (remember those??) being used by reporters, the communication between one department and another, the tediousness but nostalgia of the Linotype (ohmigod!); and the entire printing process, from the plates, to the reels of paper, to the rollers, to the conveyor belt, to the stacking and binding – and finally to the docks and out for delivery.
The costuming and fashion and props and background noises all are true to the time, and there’s even use of Nixon’s actual recorded conversations (the ones recorded by the man himself).
Let’s be honest, “The Post” isn’t a high-testosterone action flick. The set-up take a while; there are a lot of pieces that need to be put into place before this thing gets rolling. Once that happened, though, I was good; there are plenty of pulse-pounding moments to hold your attention, even if you know how this one ends.
This is exactly the type of high-stakes, big drama event about which movies are made; it just so happens that this one pretty much wrote itself.
These characters are smart and determined; they know what they have to do, but they also know what they’re up against.
And if you’ve ever had that feeling of having something so elusive actually within reach, but you need certain pieces to fall into place at specific moments in order to be successful, you will totally understand the heart-beating-out-of-your-chest mixture of excitement and anxiety in “The Post.”
Spielberg’s tight shots and jumpy camera help elevate that nervousness, especially during that sequence in Bradlee’s living room, with journalists and papers strewn about every surface and that looming deadline just a-tickin’ away.
“The Post” is an eye-opening look at the urgency of truth – and the importance of, logic behind and delicate nature inherent in those rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.
And if ever there was a time for this movie, it’s right now.