This is a throwback film. There
is much dialogue and no CGI. No
action scenes, no car chases, no violence, no sex, no nudity, no comedy,
no“adult situations.” It could have been a play (and still could).
It could have been made in the 1950's, particularly with the
pervasiveness of smoking in public places, and the maddening, smug
entitlement of white men in suits. But
it's set in the early 1970's, when newspapers were still the predominant
social media. And their
Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) is the hard-driving, chain-smoking,
somewhat profane editor of “The Washington Post.”
He chafes at playing second fiddle to “The New York Times,” who
seem to always scoop everyone else with the investigative reporting.
And now, they've done it again---they've somehow gotten hold of
some classified material, a study ordered by then-Defense Secretary Robert
McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) about America's involvement in Vietnam.
What the report clearly indicates is that not only has the current
administration been lying to the American people, every administration
since FDR has done the same thing. Yes:
Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, LBJ, Nixon:
all have secretly ordered escalating military involvement, all
under the guise of Cold War “Domino Theory”:
that Communism must be stopped from spreading in Vietnam.
But the worst part is that the study freely admits that
“winning” the war was never really a realistic possibility; the combat
merely some leverage to get the other side to the bargaining table.
That, of course, is a terribly cynical view, and hardly justifies
the human cost of throwing the lives of American soldiers into harm's way.
Which is why the politicians consistently covered up their actions.
They knew it would be unpopular.
When Ben Bradlee gets hold of this information, he immediately goes
to his publisher, Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), and asks permission to
publish it. The decision is
not simple, and not just because it's classified material.
“The New York Times” had already begun publishing it, but was
court- ordered to cease and desist, since the Justice Department filed
suit, citing national security issues.
The injunction didn't specifically include “The Post,” but by
inference, they could be held in contempt, with the editor and publisher
potentially facing imprisonment. Not
only that, the paper was preparing for an IPO (initial public offering),
for the first time selling stock in the company to the public, because of
the increasing fiscal demands of running a newspaper (an economic reality
which would only get worse). And
any adverse publicity could greatly affect the investors' outlook, and
thus the IPO; even derail it.
Tom Hanks is always appealing as an actor, and here he brings his
natural likeability to smooth some of the rough edges off the otherwise
foul, vulgar Ben Bradlee. Meryl
Streep brings her usual layered approach to portraying a conflicted
character. Part of her is the
wealthy society scion who throws the kind of “insider” dinner parties
that include people like her old friend, Bob McNamara.
Part of her is still the grieving widow; her husband abruptly
checked out (self-inflicted), and left her holding this very large
company, where she was suddenly in charge of a business she knew little
about. But there's strength of
character in her, and depth of relational skill, and she'll need every bit
of both when the morally complicated dilemmas suddenly arise.
Director Steven Spielberg tackles a complex situation and focuses
on one issue: freedom of the
press. It's one of the
foundations of our democratic nation.
And a privilege that should not be trampled upon by the powerful,
no matter what their intentions.