The dramatic appeal and talent credentials behind “The Post” are so obvious that, at times, this prestige historical flick actually becomes a bit too obvious. We’re always going to cheer when we see freedom of the press win, even if this happened in 1971 and we know the whole time we watch the film that it would. And of course Tom Hanks is rousing as a tough newspaperman, and of course Meryl Streep is convincing as a conflicted publisher, to the extent “The Post” almost seems beside the point. Except that by the end, it isn’t.
Viewers may chuckle knowingly when the big scandal at the beginning of the film is that reporters from The Washington Post have been barred from covering the wedding of one of Richard Nixon’s daughters. As editor Ben Bradlee, Hanks rails about the dangers of the White House controlling the press’ access. From what happens immediately, to Watergate, to right this very minute, we know this is just the tip of the iceberg.
What follows is the saga of the Pentagon Papers, which exposed the fallacies of the Vietnam War to a public already desperate for it to end, and what “The Post” brings to a well-known historical tale is the personal struggle Katharine Graham faced in her decision to publish them in The Washington Post after The New York Times, which broke the story, was blocked from continuing.
The angle that makes this version of the tale worthwhile is Graham, and Streep shows us a character who was not necessarily born to lead; she had responsibility thrust upon her and did not find it all that easy to rise to the occasion. It’s interesting to see a female character struggle to find her resolve, and waver. She is detailed and dimensional, and inspiring in that she has to dig deep to find that steely resolve.
Ben Bradlee (Hanks) has every reason in the world to want to publish the Pentagon Papers. He is desperate to increase his profile and that of the newspaper, and this move is entirely in keeping with the trajectory of a brash reporter and editor. Graham, on the other hand, fell into her role after her husband committed suicide, a conservative lady who counted Robert McNamara himself as one of her closest friends. It is Bradlee’s wife, played by Sarah Paulson, who explains the difference to him.
The cinematography is weirdly inert, with framing so basic it sometimes distracts. Nevertheless, it’s thrilling to see those newspapers getting typeset, printed and thrown. In the vein, obviously, of “Spotlight,” this film is a valentine not just to journalism, but to newsprint itself.
“The Post” is timely both in its defense of freedom of the press and its emphasis on the contribution of female leadership, and while it is a by-the-book kind of treatment of the story, it is still quite a story. If you like typing, reading, researching, thinking, the First Amendment, Meryl Streep and/or Tom Hanks, this is simply a compelling film.
“The Post” is currently available to rent.
Saenger classic film series returns
The Saenger Theatre’s Summer Classic Movie Series will return, running July 15 to Aug. 19. On Sunday afternoons, the Saenger will feature a classic movie to be shown at 3 p.m., with doors opening at 2:30 p.m. General admission tickets are on sale now: prices are $6 for adults, $3 for children age 12 and under, and $3 for 60+ seniors. Seating will be on a first-come, first-served basis.
Tickets can be purchased at either the Saenger Theatre Box Office (6 S. Joachim St., open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) or the Mobile Civic Center Box Office (401 Civic Center Drive, open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.). Tickets cannot be purchased online or by phone. The Saenger Box Office will open at 12:30 p.m. the day of each movie.
The main concession stand downstairs will be open for snacks and beverages (popcorn, sodas, candy, beer, wine and mixed drinks).
This year’s lineup: July 15, “Casablanca”; July 22, “Top Gun”; July 29, “Steel Magnolias”; Aug. 5, “Pulp Fiction”; Aug. 12, “Mary Poppins”; Aug. 19, “The Wizard of Oz.”
For additional information, visit www.mobilesaenger.com.