Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Post: Something Seems Amiss

Movie Review: The Post (2017)
Version: Library Blu-Ray

I am from the Boomer generation, so I remember Daniel Ellsberg, the Washington Post, and the battle with the Nixon Administration over the Pentagon Papers. The Post is that dramatic story told from the view of the Washington Post with two of the world's best stars: Meryl Steep as Washington Post owner Kay Graham and Tom Hanks as its editor Ben Bradlee.

In this film version of the story, Kay Graham has taken over as publisher of the Washington Post after the death of her husband amid doubts of her ability to lead. The Post has been operating more as a city paper instead of the national paper it should be, trying to compete against the giant New York Times, which keeps scooping them on big stories on their home turf. Ben Bradlee is driving his reporters to dig deeper and harder, but somehow the Times is more able. As leaks develop in a secret story about a government cover up in the veracity of the Vietnam War, the Post finally gets a break as the Nixon Administration takes the Times to court and shuts down reporting. A mysterious woman drops off copies of pages of the Pentagon Papers on a Post reporter's desk, and a race against time ensues to publish without suffering wrath of the White House. Meanwhile, Graham is trying to take the Post public on the stock exchange with investors tempted to pull out and financial advisers telling her the paper's finances need the cash infusion.

Also at stake for Graham are personal relationships with people in the Nixon Administration at risk, like Defense Secretary Robert McNamara (played by Bruce Greenwood). And there is Daniel Ellsberg (played by Matthew Rhys), a Defense Department staffer who faces espionage charges for leaking the documents. It's high stakes risks for everyone involved, included Graham and Bradlee, who could go to jail.

Streep and Hanks at the acting helm brings huge star power to this film. High stakes for the characters brings huge drama. As historical fiction, you can't offer greater conflict in a story than Washington power brokers going after each other in a battle over first-amendment rights versus military-industrial interests. Yet somehow something seems amiss in this film. It feels like a viewer setup, even knowing this story from having lived during the times. This is a Steven Spielberg film, which would normally be a set up for quality. But there are subtle hiccups. And I think it may be shot setups, the way the lines are so casually delivered with obvious acting versus the usual natural deliveries by Hanks and Streep. And here is my sneeking suspicion: I watched it on Blu-Ray, which brings a visual clarity to movies that lets you see all the ugly warts of production. I miss the graininess of a good film. Watching a digital "film" is like watching the "filming" live and so, watching a live performance. There's no romancing of the audience with the beauty of the celluloid. And Blu-Ray enhances that clarity. It actually spoils the movie for me. I don't want to see the action live. I want to see the story through the artificiality of the lens and actual film. And this, I posit, is what spoils The Post.

The Post is a good story. The narrative arc holds together. The dramatic story (the script) holds together. The history holds together. Maybe it's the forced acting that just doesn't hold together -- maybe they tried too hard. But for me, seeing it on Blu-Ray really spoiled it for me. If you see The Post, at least see it on regular DVD. And focus on the history that was made within the story. Because that was the story.

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