“The Post “ is like the Yankees of movies: a Steven Spielberg-directed film about the Pentagon Papers starring Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep and all your favorite television character actors (Jesse Plemons! Bob Odenkirk! Carrie Coon! Sarah Paulson!). It doesn’t seem fair. Is there any way it wouldn’t be great?
While there are a few clunkers (as if a parody, the film opens in Vietnam to the sound of helicopters and Creedence Clearwater Revival), on the whole “The Post” is meat-and-potatoes Spielberg in the best possible way.
Instead of a deep dive into the reporting that led to the Pentagon Papers being exposed, however, “The Post” focuses on The Washington Post executives who risked everything to make it happen.
Streep plays Katharine Graham, the new publisher of the Post, who is taking her family’s paper public in an effort to save it. Hanks is editor Ben Bradlee, who is trying to elevate it from hometown rag to national necessity on par with The New York Times.
The film begins with Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) in Vietnam, and the moment he decides that he can’t handle the lies of Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood), who in private says that things are devolving in the war but then boasts to the press that things are improving. Ellsberg steals the reports and starts the long process of copying them. While “The Post” is not much more than people talking, Spielberg infuses every scene with tension and life and the grandeur of the ordinary.
At the heart of the story is Graham, a smart and capable woman who is full of doubt, and is doubted by nearly everyone around her. Her father had given the paper to her husband, and when he died, she took control. As she tells her daughter (Alison Brie), when she took control, she was a middle-aged woman who had never held a job. Streep plays her with daring reserve, as she finds herself unable to speak in key meetings or stand up for herself as her board of directors disrespects her.
Hanks has a ball as Bradlee, a charming and crass cad with a mission and an army of doting reporters trying to get the story. Bradlee and Graham clash as editors and publishers do, but there is a foundation of respect there, too, and it is a joy to watch Hanks and Streep share the screen.
Rated PG-13 for language and brief war violence. 1:55. AMC Classic, Fayette, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester.