"The Post" is on safe ground when it focuses on Streep as Graham - tentative, slightly affected, but growing by the day - and with Graham's relationship with her gruff, hotshot editor, Ben Bradlee, played by Tom Hanks, against type but winningly.
The film's script was co-written by Josh Singer, who also wrote The Fifth Estate and won an Oscar for his work on the last big journo movie, 2015's Spotlight.
The study was commissioned by former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood), a close friend of Graham. The papers showed that the American government had been lying about its involvement in Vietnam going back even before President Kennedy.
These challenges can't completely be overcome, no matter how many times they crank up the John Williams score, and so the movie sags in the middle. Modern audiences may be taken aback at the easy sexism that Streep's Graham faces in almost every scene, and impressed with the easy grace with which she handles it.
In this fact-based political drama, Steven Spielberg zeroes in on events that led to the publication, in 1971, of classified documents detailing the USA government's mishandling of their involvement in the Vietnam War.
Needless to say with Streep and Hanks, the acting was flawless.
When no one would listen to Ellsberg, he did what many whistleblowers do: he leaked the report to the New York Times.
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"The Post" is a timely docudrama about the role of the press in holding politicians accountable. He pursues the story with the purest, strongest force known to journalism - that of the scooped trying to scoop their scooper. Graham, the boss, is caught in the middle.
Even though you know what happens in the end, since, you know, it's based on history, the story keeps you on the edge of your seat and reminds you that...
Streep finally gets to shift into noble-risk-taker gear when press time rolls around, and Graham's forced to choose between Bradlee's agenda (print!) and her board's (follow the court order!). Graham wasn't even a character in All the President's Men, it's worth noting, and it is right and just that she be properly restored to history via the cinema. There's a whiff of her Devil Wears Prada persona about her Katharine Graham, if the behind-the-scenes vulnerability of that role were all we had been allowed to see.
As you might expect, some people will see parallels with the current White House, which derides the Post and other newspapers and networks as purveyors of fake news.
Those who lived through The Washington Post's struggle against government opposition in the 1970s will want to relive the historic happenings through The Post. Spielberg is slick enough in his directing choices-and savvy enough to put together a killer cast of supporting players like Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Sarah Paulson and Alison Brie-that it rarely feels like you're getting a lecture about the importance of an adversarial free press. Streep's performance is predictably sensational at capturing a woman full of self-doubt in a society still skeptical of women in positions of authority, and Spielberg employs all of his skills in shots that emphasize her insecurity: peering down at her over Bradlee's shoulder in a way that pins her in a corner, or circling her at a party like she's prey just ready to be eaten. The film is a love letter to old newspapers, the camera lingering on the typesetters toiling on Linotype machines, and conveyor belts sending newspapers high into the sky as if they were delivering today's edition directly to the heavens.
Of course, Bradlee isn't the one making the final call. And a reminder that everyone needs to be welcomed, and listened to, in the fight.