Saturday, August 18, 2018
Movies

‘The Post’ lacks urgency in favor of saintly typecasting for Streep and Hanks

Steven Spielberg’s The Post is a fake news movie, a true story told phony to further an agenda.

Some viewers won’t notice since Spielberg’s agenda includes defending First Amendment rights, celebrating female empowerment and sticking it to Richard Nixon again. I’m in favor of all three. The first two are especially relevant today.

The Post doesn’t make a compelling case for any of those ideals. Its chief form of persuasion is saintly typecasting: Meryl Streep as Washington Post publisher Katharine (Kay) Graham and Tom Hanks as irascible editor Ben Bradlee. She dithers her way to unintentional feminism while he squints, grumbling corn like "My God, the fun!" when a tip comes in.

They aren’t the best central characters for a drama about the Pentagon Papers, classified documents leaked in 1971, proving the Vietnam War was a lost cause and presidents before Nixon knew it. The Post pays only cursory attention to the leaker Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) and the New York Times, who got the scoop and won in a Supreme Court case alongside the Post.

As a procedural, The Post lacks urgency. Getting scooped by the Times then scrambling to catch up isn’t compelling without an All the President’s Men/Spotlight puzzle to assemble. The Pentagon Papers were 7,000-plus pages of bottom-line duplicity, a smoking gun on each. The Post is simply a question of publishing this information or not; that’s clear-cut before it’s asked.

Kay Graham offers the complexity of which The Post needs more, a woman with power she declines to use until backed into a corner. Streep doesn’t play her as a crusader; twice Kay walks into boardrooms, a lone woman among grim men, making no impression. At dinner parties she joins wives in another room while husbands discuss serious issues. Kay’s social connection to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) becomes a conflict of interest she grows braver in confronting.

Yet Spielberg can’t resist making Kay something more, something modern despite the period setting. In the movie’s phoniest moment, Kay exits the Supreme Court walking through the most unconvincing war protesters since Forrest Gump. Suddenly they’re all young women reverently gazing at Kay, as if hippie chicks in 1971 would admire or even recognize a middle-aged Establishment woman.

Spielberg ends his movie on an odd note, showing Watergate Hotel security guard Frank Wills discovering the "third-rate burglary" that led to All the President’s Men. Maybe Spielberg feels the need to justify The Post: "See? They did get a scoop later and Nixon was guilty." Or thinks he made a movie that good.

Contact Steve Persall at spersall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

Comments
Why did it take so long to see a cast like ‘Crazy Rich Asians’?

Why did it take so long to see a cast like ‘Crazy Rich Asians’?

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. In January 2017, the director Jon M. Chu announced an open casting call for Asian and Asian-American actors for his movie adaptation of Crazy Rich Asians. Recorded in the kitchen of his West Hollywood home (you can see his frid...
Published: 08/17/18
In ‘Mile 22,’ Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg go hog-wild without a real-life basis to hold onto

In ‘Mile 22,’ Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg go hog-wild without a real-life basis to hold onto

How was your latest drive to the airport? Hopefully a lot less complicated and violent than the one Mark Wahlberg undertakes in his latest outing with frequent collaborator Peter Berg in Mile 22. Working from a wordy, wham-bam script by debut screenw...
Published: 08/17/18
5 films to consider for the popular Oscar, from ‘Black Panther’ to ‘Paddington 2’

5 films to consider for the popular Oscar, from ‘Black Panther’ to ‘Paddington 2’

All hell broke loose when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced a new category last week to honor "outstanding achievement in popular film."The highly criticized move raised far more questions than it answered. When will the categ...
Published: 08/16/18
What’s in theaters this week: ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’ ‘Mile 22,’ ‘Alpha’

What’s in theaters this week: ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’ ‘Mile 22,’ ‘Alpha’

NOW PLAYING: CRAZY RICH ASIANSAn Asian-American New Yorker (Constance Wu) on her first trip to Asia finds out her longtime boyfriend (Henry Golding) is one of Singapore’s most desirable bachelors in Crazy Rich Asians. His judgy mother (Michelle Yeoh)...
Published: 08/15/18
Ernest Hooper: Goody Goody stars in latest documentary by Tampa’s video historian

Ernest Hooper: Goody Goody stars in latest documentary by Tampa’s video historian

I don’t know if she can outrace a giant boulder, navigate perilous pitfalls to capture a hidden idol or beat back Nazi soldiers intent on evil.I’m not even sure if she can deftly handle a whip, or fit a fedora over her salt-and-pepper hair.Yet in man...
Published: 08/14/18
Updated: 08/15/18
Expectations are crazy high for 'Crazy Rich Asians.' It's a flawed but vital milestone

Expectations are crazy high for 'Crazy Rich Asians.' It's a flawed but vital milestone

Before it whisks you off on the sunniest, most extravagant Singaporean holiday imaginable, Crazy Rich Asians begins on a curiously dark and stormy night. When Eleanor Young (a mesmerizing Michelle Yeoh) arrives dripping wet at an exclusive London ho...
Published: 08/14/18
Long before 'The Meg,' the hunt for megalodon teeth has been on in Florida

Long before 'The Meg,' the hunt for megalodon teeth has been on in Florida

You can find their giant teeth, sometimes worth thousands, in several spots in Florida.
Published: 08/09/18
Oscars add popular film category, set earlier 2020 date

Oscars add popular film category, set earlier 2020 date

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Oscars are adding a new category to honor popular films and promising a brisk three-hour ceremony and a much earlier air date in 2020. John Bailey, the newly re-elected president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Scienc...
Published: 08/08/18
‘BlacKkKlansman’ is Spike Lee’s best, and most necessary, movie in years

‘BlacKkKlansman’ is Spike Lee’s best, and most necessary, movie in years

Washington PostAmong Spike Lee’s prodigious filmmaking talents, opening sequences are perhaps his most distinctive. He creates ambitious, operatic overtures for his films, mini-movies that introduce viewers to the stories and themes they’re about to ...
Published: 08/08/18
In theaters this week: ‘Dog Days,’ ‘The Meg,’ ‘BlacKkKlansman,’ ‘Slender Man’

In theaters this week: ‘Dog Days,’ ‘The Meg,’ ‘BlacKkKlansman,’ ‘Slender Man’

NOW PLAYING: Dog DaysL.A. canines lead their human companions on surprising journeys in Dog Days, an ensemble comedy with Nina Dobrev, Vanessa Hudgens, Adam Pally, Eva Longoria, Rob Corddry, Tone Bell, Jon Bass, Michael Cassidy, Thomas Lennon, Tig No...
Published: 08/08/18