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The Post

Intrigue at the highest levels in politics, journalism and gender

© Twentieth Century Fox Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep in The Post.
      In 1971, a secret study exposing the futility of the Vietnam War was leaked to the New York Times. Printing it reveals decades of deception. The Pentagon Papers, as the explosive revelations were known, shook the American people’s trust in their government and infuriated the Nixon administration.
      Nixon sued. The Times was barred from further revelations while the Supreme Court deliberated on the paper’s First Amendment rights to print.
That’s the true backstory of the lively political drama The Post.
       With the Times silenced, papers around the world await the decision.
Except The Washington Post, whose executive editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks: The Circle), wants to break the silence, raising his paper’s national prestige.
      Standing in his way is the Post’s owner Kay Graham (Meryl Streep: Florence Foster Jenkins), a Washington socialite close with LBJ and Bob McNamara.   Graham is in fact struggling to keep her paper alive and to be taken seriously in a man’s world. If she prints the Pentagon Papers and the Supreme Court rules against the Times, she can lose her paper. If she doesn’t, she risks irrelevancy.
       Their conflict adds another layer of drama to a newspaper movie that is both thrilling and, in the current political climate, timely.
       The Post manages to be two very interesting movies in one. Bradlee and his dogged quest to print the Pentagon Papers plays out like a political thriller and prequel to All the President’s Men. Graham’s is the timely story about a woman finding her place in the working world and asserting herself as the men at the table dismiss her.
      Hanks makes Bradlee a man guided by his principles and both driven and driving to get the scoop. His half of the movie is filled with research and breathless phone calls.
         Graham’s half of the story is more nuanced. Streep is excellent as a woman used to being unobtrusive. She gossips with the ladies at her parties rather than talking politics with the men. She allows herself to be cowed by the panel of men who are supposed to advise her. In framing Streep in her scenes, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (The BFG) has a man looming above or crowding into her frame, making her seem small and pressed.
       The Post is a bit heavy-handed due to director Steven Spielberg, who can never resist making his point in the most obvious way and repeating it. Speeches about how hard it is to be a woman in a changing society are back-to-back. A shot of Graham walking past every female stereotype is so groan-inducing that you may need to resist the urge to throw popcorn at the screen.
       Still, The Post is a welcome reminder about the role the press plays in keeping the executive branch honest — and about women finding new ways to embrace power in the face of male domination. 
Good Drama • PG-13 • 115 mins.
 
New this Week
 
The Commuter 
       Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson) follows a mundane routine. So he’s surprised to be pulled into a conspiracy on his daily train commute. Following the instructions of a mysterious woman on the train (Vera Farmiga), he’s told, or people will die and he’ll be blamed. 
         On a speeding train with no way to signal for help, he must try to outwit whoever is attempting to ruin his life. 
      Neeson has made an odd turn late in his career, from dramatic actor to action movie hero. The Commuter looks to be one of those typical action flicks, featuring him growling menacingly and quickly walking with purpose through small spaces.
       If you’re a fan of Neeson’s particular set of skills, this film should be fairly thrilling. Setting the movie on a train keeps the action claustrophobic and the tension high. If you’re looking for a well-thought out plot, however, you may be disappointed.
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 104 mins.
 
Paddington 2
       Now an official member of the Brown family, Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) is a bear on a mission. He wants to buy a spectacular present for his aunt’s 100th birthday. He works many odd jobs to earn enough money to buy something wonderful, only to have his money stolen.
        Paddington and the Brown family must work together to find the thief and save Aunt Lucy’s birthday surprise.
      This sequel to the surprisingly loveable Paddington movie promises more delight. Brimming with recognizable British character actors and cuddly critters, Paddington 2 should be fun for young and old alike.
Prospects: Bright • PG • 103 mins. 
 
Proud Mary 
       Hitwoman Mary (Taraji P. Henson) is the go-to assassin for the biggest crime family in Boston. Then a hit goes awry. Will she take on the whole of the Boston mob to protect a boy she barely knows?
     Taraji P. Henson is one of the most charismatic actresses working today, so it’s wonderful to see her lead an action movie. Styling and plot follow Pam Grier’s blaxploitation classics, featuring powerful no-nonsense women fighting for good. If the plot is weak, Henson’s charm and talent are strong.
Prospects: Flickering • R • 89 mins.