A couple of years prior to Watergate, after an encounter with the Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood), Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), a military analyst for The Rand Corporation who travelled to Vietnam as an observer of the war, released The Pentagon Papers to The New York Times, Washington Post and other newspapers. Executive editor Ben Bradlee (Hanks) doesn't want to back down when the White House refuses access to the Post's reporter, though publisher Katharine Graham (Streep), a patrician socialite who travels in those rarefied social circles, urges her editor to apply a lighter touch. He sees a chance for his regional paper to claw onto an equal footing with more prestigious rival publications in New York City, Chicago, and Boston.
At the time of the Pentagon Papers controversy, the Post had just become a publicly traded company, and Graham anxious that the defiant move, putting the newspaper at odds with the federal government, would give investors the jitters.
Despite earning six Golden Globe awards and being a likely candidate for the Oscars, The Post earned no nominations for the upcoming Screen Actor Guild Awards announced last week. In fact, its 47-year-old story couldn't be more relevant, as our current government wages an all-out war on the champion of the people by callously labeling what we do as "fake news".
With the camera tracking in on her, Streep gives this moment electric life. Whether this depiction is true or not - and the real-life Graham indeed confessed to a lack of self-confidence fostered by the sexism surrounding her - the screenwriters clearly see it as a dramatic necessity to tee up an eventual heroic climax of courageous conviction on Graham's part.
Streep has been a prominent voice regarding gender equality in Hollywood following the fallout of disgraced mogul Harvey Weinstein, who distributed numerous films of Streep's. Graham knows how to run a newspaper. Her father had given the paper to her husband and when he committed suicide, she took control. Maybe you've heard of him?
The personality of this movie is different from anything Spielberg has given us before. Real Sunday afternoon TNT fare. This is more so because WaPo at that time was a small, family-owned business with no conflict of interest with any political or corporate entity. Yes, we get the parallels to the present, underlined here with actual audio recordings of President Richard Nixon plotting and complaining about press leaks while a Nixon double, seen from behind, holds a telephone and gestures. Bob Odenkirk does particularly fine work as the reporter who tracks down Ellsberg and gets his hands on the papers. In a weird way, he is the consequences-be-damned engine and moral compass the movie needs to get from point a to point b. It is thoughtful, polished craftsmanship by a filmmaker still near the top of his game, and it's more necessary than ever.
Speaking of girl power, Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins took home the Spotlight Award for their work on the film Wonder Woman. This is your Pentagon Papers moment.' I think the movie really did meet its moment in time, and the time's up.
The actress also said the talk show host, who has sparked speculation that she could run for U.S. president following her speech about equality at the Golden Globes, could help inspire other potential candidates.
Demetri Ravanos is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association and has reviewed movies for Raleigh and Company, Military1.com and The Alan Kabel Radio Network.