The Post – A Review

Image result for post movie posterStephen Spielberg directs Meryl Streep & Tom Hanks in The Post, a story based on true events surrounding The Washington Post’s publishing of the Pentagon Papers in the midst of the Vietnam war. Meryl Streep plays Katherine Graham the owner of the newspaper and Tom Hanks plays Ben Bradlee the editor of the paper.

 

The story chronicles the rise of The Washington Post from a local newspaper to one of such prominence that it eventually led to the impeachment of a President of The United States. Katherine comes to running the paper when her husband commits suicide. She is a reluctant leader, thrust into a position she never thought likely and constantly defers to the other men on the board. Ben Bradlee is the editor who doesn’t seem to want to rock the boat and just coast along doing fluff reporting trying to curry favour with the Nixon Administration by not getting adversarial. When the confidential report commissioned by Bob McNamara, Lyndon Johnson’s secretary of defence is leaked and The New York Times published the piece and is faced with an injunction by the Nixon Administration, The Post takes it upon itself to print the pentagon papers as well.

Image result for the post

Meryl Streep is good as Katherine Graham, but this isn’t one that even an ardent fan like myself is going to want to come back to. She is given very little to do and in that she does just enough. Tom Hanks has the meatier of the two roles and does rather well in the scenes he is in. Bradley Whitford as board member Arthur Parsons, Tracey Letts as Kay Graham’s confidant Fritz Beebe & Bob Odenkirk as Ben Bagdikian who ferrets out the source and gets the papers to The Post are brilliant in the supporting roles.

Image result for the post

Stephen Spielberg makes the most obvious of directing choices, every scene is paint by numbers. The screenplay and editing just compound the problems with Spielberg’s simplistic direction. For instance the scene where Graham gives her go ahead for the print run and Bradlee calls the printers to relay the go ahead would have been so much more effecting had they simply cut from Meryl sitting down on the chair and Hanks walking to the phone and Odenkirk sitting at his desk in the newsroom typing away when his desk begins to vibrate indicating that the go ahead was given. Instead Streep says yes, Hanks phones in his go ahead and then the printshop worker is shown hitting the print button before cutting to Odenkirk. There are many such moments which are squandered away. The reason for why Graham goes from being a reluctant leader to one with great conviction is also allowed to fall flat. Even the final scene where Graham is walking away with Bradlee and they joke on how they cannot bear to go through something like this again, and laughing at the fact that since it is Nixon it is more likely that something like will happen, implying the subsequent Watergate expose which The Post ran, Spielberg follows that up with a throwaway clip of a police inspector reporting a break-in at the Watergate building. Such childish direction is not what Streep & Hanks deserve, the story commands nor one expects from Spielberg.

Image result for the post

The scene where May Greenfield reads out the Supreme Court ruling “In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfil its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. In my view, far from deserving condemnation for their courageous re porting, The New York Times, The Washington Post and other newspapers should be commended for serving the purpose that the Founding Fathers saw so clearly. In revealing the workings of government that led to the Vietnam War, the newspapers nobly did precisely that which the founders hoped and trusted they would do.” Is the reason why this movie is so important I just wish it was better made.

Advertisements

August: Osage County – A Review

John Wells directs a director’s dream cast including Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Margot Martindale, Abigail Breslin, Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Chris Cooper and Julianne Nicholson in a script adapted by Tracey Letts based on his original material written as a play for the stage in August: Osage County.

The story unfolds as Beverley Weston played by Sam Shepard hires a house keeper to take care of his sick wife Violet Weston played by the magnificent Meryl Streep. Bev goes missing and then is found dead. This brings his and Violet’s three daughters together to come and support their mother in grief and attend the funeral.

Meryl Streep gets a nomination every time she descends on the silver screen and there are enough detractors out there who feel she is over rated or over-loved if there is such a thing. To them I say watch this movie and then come talk to me. She is in a form which very few actresses can ever hope to reach. This is the peak of her performance. As the cancer stricken, pill popping, dementia ridden Violet Weston, she is vicious with her insults and barbs and acidic comments on all those gathered at the lunch table. She is  rude and callous one moment and in need of our sympathies at the very next as you can see the years of hard living, a tough childhood a far-from-ideal marriage and the betrayal she feels at the hands of her daughters who have all moved away. Take it from an ardent Streep lover – this is Meryl at her absolute best. Having seen blue jasmine starring Cate Blanchett (who I love as well) is the betting favorite to take home the trophy but if there is any justice in the world then the battle of the psychotic breakdown should land in the favor of Meryl Streep.

A strong supporting cast carries the movie along onto a different level altogether once the pace has been sent by Streep. Roberts with her return to the screen with a meaty role really digs her heels in as the eldest daughter of the Weston household with a rebellious teenager for daughter a husband with whom she is going through a separation, a dead father and a mother who is quickly losing her wits about herself Roberts take upon herself to steady the ship. The lunch table brawl between Roberts and Streep is the stuff of cinematic legends it is raw, high adrenaline and heartbreaking at the same time. Margot Martindale as Violet’s sister with a deep secret is smashing in her turn as Mattie Fae. Martindale and Cooper’s outburst over their son is brilliant as well. This is a movie packed with so many moments that it is impossible to pick your favorite my top three would have to be the lunch time brawl, the midnight spade-attack and the lets all break things.

The screenplay is so cleverly written that it surprises you at every turn of the story. The story of the plains is anything but a plain story, it is a multi-layered multi-faceted tale of a dysfunctional family the likes of which have not been seen on the screen. It is a fantastically intertwined tale of such hopeless despair that there would seem like there is no way out yet the story lifts itself with such light moments as the one where the three girls share in their mother’s childhood story of her crush which while still ends up being heartbreaking gives you hope that the family will still pull it together and somehow survive. But bear in mind this is not one of your happy endings stories this is a fast unraveling of a messy family drama with top notch performances which leave you in awe of entire ensemble cast who put on a stellar show.

There is a minor misstep in direction which has generated a fairly interesting conversation on the internet. It is rumored that Roberts wanted to get the lead nom over Streep so she arm-twisted the Weinsteins who in turn put pressure on Wells to add a final scene focusing on Roberts instead of cutting to credit after Violet breaks down in the arms of her house keeper. And to be honest it would have been a more satisfying end if the movie ended as originally intended by the screen writer Tracy Letts with Violet broken down and leaving the audience to grapple with the questions of what will happen. And whether the daughters will return or whether Violet will survive on her own or will she not. Focusing on Roberts is a faulty move and could have been avoided.

The cinematography by Adriano Goldman beautifully captures the darkened out Weston household and in those long tracking shots of the Oklahoma plains does magic to capture the stark and unremarkable landscape to evoke a sense of helplessness that envelopes the central characters of the narrative. Stark yet beautiful.  The score by Gustavo Santaolalla is subtle and does not invade the dramatic space to tell us when to feel what – it is a competent partner to the most potent of storytelling and only really makes its presence felt in one moment when nothing is spoken and family is driving back from the doctors. The Kings of Leon song which plays at the credit scene “Last Mile Home” should have earned the rock band a nomination for original song but it curiously didn’t.

Watch this movie because this is Meryl Streep at her absolute best. This should be reason enough for anyone to want to watch the movie but it is not the only reason the movie provides. If you are not swayed yet watch it because it boasts a supporting cast the strengths of which are rarely on display. Watch it because it is a fantastically written and a brilliantly directed film. Did I mention already WATCH IT FOR MERYL STREEP!