“The Post” movie review

The Fourth Estate, triumphant! Steven Spielberg’s The Post is a historic biographical drama depicting the story behind the infamous Pentagon Papers that set a monumental precedent in the US Supreme Court following a ruling in the favor of the freedom of the press. Probably the most significant ruling affecting journalism, this film goes beyond the cold, hard facts of the case and into the offices and houses of those who were responsible for shedding light on the lies the US government was spinning to keep the War in Vietnam going. In a manner of speaking, this film could be read as Spielberg’s ode to US journalism, and by extension, to the free press at large. While traditional ink and paper newspapers may be slowly becoming a thing of the past, Spielberg’s film shows that the press has an important place in a democratic society. Without the free press, a nation’s government could easily lie and maliciously mislead its people to serve its own gain. No surprise, Meryl Streep’s and Tom Hanks’ acting is simply brilliant; while the rolls may not seem incredibly complex, it’s the beauty in simplicity that demonstrates the excellent commitment to character that we all have come to respect over the years for these Oscar-winning actors. The Post is a historical drama brought to life for the screen through precise editing, beautiful cinematography, and a gripping score.

Unrest grows at home while the US is deep in the middle of the Vietnam War. With conflicting reports coming out of the warzone, the people of the United States have only the word of their government to assure them the war is going well but they have to continue sending the boys overseas to “win.” After a rogue journalist leaks papers from the Pentagon describing how the US is losing and it keeps sending boys overseas to keep up appearances to the New York Times, the attorney general places a restraining order on the iconic newspaper to prohibit it from publishing the classified material. After word of this unprecedented extension of power, the editor-in-chief of The Washington Post Ben Bradlee (Hanks) comes to have a copy of the papers and desires to publish them in order to show the American people what the government has really been up to. Only one small problem, the owner of The Washington Post Katharine (Kay) Graham (Streep), the first woman to own a major newspaper, is unsure if the papers should be published because she seeks to take the paper public and this could damage that–not to mention that she and Bradlee could go to jail. Go beyond the pages of a history book to witness the thrilling drama unfold as you find out just why The Pentagon Papers was such a big deal.

While many critics and fans of the movie are touting it as the “best movie of the year” or commenting to managers at cineplexes that it’s “amazing,” I am not convinced that it truly is “the best” or as “amazing” as it’s being heralded. Before you go questioning my taste in movies, I completely agree that The Post is an excellently made film–there is nothing wrong with it. For all intents and purposes, it is a perfect film. But just because it’s figuratively perfectly produced and directed, does not mean that it is “amazing.” In many ways, this movie reminds me of Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies. It too is a perfectly made historic drama (coincidentally also starring Hanks) that falls within the same subgenre of drama as The Post. When I think of a Spielberg film, I have come to expect a wow factor. And it’s that lack of a wow factor that troubles me in awarding this film with an accolade such as “best picture.”

Usually, there is a particular scene that evokes strong emotion, perhaps it’s a powerful monologue or heated emotionally-driven exchange between two characters, there are other methods for evoking an eruption of feeling and emotion within the mind and body. Never once did I feel my emotions run high with this film. And I happen to be an entertainment journalist, I teach media writing at a popular university, and spent time in broadcast news. I have a love for the media, the press, and publishing. I also spent time in a media law class in graduate school analyzing the very papers in question, and I still did not feel emotionally woken up by the film. I find the film very well written, produced, shot, directed, acted, scored–everything is done with extreme precision. But, that’s what I have come to expect from Spielberg, Streep, and Hanks. Yes, to be able to consistently deliver excellence is nearly uncanny; but when I know what to expect, it’s much more difficult to surprise or wow me. That’s what is missing from this film in my opinion–the wow factor.

On the socio-political spectrum, I find the commentary on women in leadership is brilliant! Quite happy that the film chose such an incredible woman’s story to tell so cinematically well. The character of Kay Graham is not only an inspiration to aspiring female leaders, but she is an inspiration to all who find themselves in positions of influence or power for which society does not feel he or she is suited. Whereas this prejudice can affect men and women, history has shown that is has affected women more. And this film is a breath of inspiration for young women who will become future leaders around the world. Brave. Kay Graham was an incredibly brave woman who fought the good fight and proved that she could make the tough decisions that are required in order to grow a company. I also find that The Post serves as a beacon of hope that the press is here to serve the American people in a day and time that our government’s leaders claim that the press at large is “fake news.” Newspapers are here to serve the governed NOT the governers. Let the Pentagon Papers be a sign that our leaders are not past deception even if it means sending our military to certain death in order to keep up appearances.

The Post is definitely a movie that all journalists should watch. And not just “conventional” journalists. But anyone who takes part in publishing written, audio, or video media content. Especially those who cover governmental affairs should watch this historical drama highlighting a huge turning point in the freedom of the press.

“True Story” movie review

True StoryDoes everyone deserve to have their story told? Fox Searchlight Pictures’ True Story starring Jonah Hill and James Franco is the type of mystery/drama cinematic work that sucks you in from the opening scene. It’s like a good mystery novel that you can’t put down. This movie slipped past a large portion of patrons of the temple of moving pictures and critics, including yours truly. At the recommendation of a friend of mine, I watched it and found it to be an exemplary movie that combines the best of a gripping mystery and pairs it with pedigreed acting and direction. It was also surprising to see both Hill and Franco in serious roles–very much a juxtaposition to the roles each respectively find themselves in. Director Rupert Goold provides us with an outstanding movie that intrigues and entertains. The cool color pallet and cinematography resemble a David Fincher style of direction. For journalists, authors, or even university researchers, this movie adds a self-reflivity element to the plot steeped in the idea of telling a story.

After years of having stories grace the covers of notionally syndicated magazines and news papers, award-winning New York Times journalist Mike Finkel (Hill) winds up disgraced after publishing a story that was was unethical in its presentation. Following his relation to Montanna, Finkel is presented with a high-profile case of Christian Longo (Franco), a man accused of murdering his entire family. Skeptical at first, Finkel is soon confronted with a multifaceted story that screams to be published. The more Finkel delves into the mind and history of Longo, the more he is intrigued by the events and actions that led Longo to be accused of the horrendous crime. Striking up a deal to teach Longo how to be a writer, Finkel takes the opportunity to write a best-selling novel in order to get back into the gam; only, he may have encountered more than meets the eye, and wrestles with the question: how to tell a true story? Sometimes a “true” story contains far more than could have ever been anticipated.

Gotcha! Like an excellent mystery/drama should, True Story contains a fantastic “gotcha” moment during the third act. Beyond the mystery at hand, there is a manipulation of facts and emotions that will catch you off guard and cause you to question and analyze the story in such a way that you did not see coming. I don’t know about you, but when I watched it, I felt the movie had a fair amount of a Hitchcockian feel about it. Just when you think you have it figured out, then you have to rethink your entire perception of past events and plot devices. You will likely ask yourself, ‘what is the true story being told here?’ This dynamic plot is three fold. You have the story of the alleged murders, the story Finkel is writing about Longo, and the movie itself which captures the over-arching story of the relationship between Finkel and Longo. This is a true story based on the true story which is based on another story. At each turn, you are sucked in deeper and deeper until you are not sure who is deceiving whom.
The cinematography and direction are both outstanding. Couple those elements with the excellent acting and writing, and you have a fantastic mystery/drama that continues to entice you as you watch it. A very positive note on the plot of this movie is the commitment to visual storytelling. From the moment the movie opens, the audience is shown the director’s commitment to using the magic of moving pictures to tell this story. So often with mysteries, it is necessary for the characters to engage in prolific exposition in order to help the detectives/journalists or even you as the audience member to piece together the puzzle. Fortunately, Goold and Finkel (as we wrote the story based on his encounters with Longo) all the characters to evolve naturally and dialog with one another in such a way that they enhance the plot and not speak their way through it.

If you enjoy murder-mysteries or investigative journalism, then this is definitely a movie for you. Despite the fact this movie flew under the radar, it is a wonderful example of how a true story can be more interesting and gripping than the best work of fiction. If for no other reason, you should watch this movie in order to see a different side to Jonah Hill and James Franco as they demonstrate their ability to reach beyond the comedies and satires they are so often associated with.