In 'The Post,' Spielberg, Streep and Hanks deliver

In 'The Post,' Spielberg, Streep and Hanks deliver

Screenplay by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer.

Directed by Steven Spielberg. Seeing those two threads intertwine in such a gripping and energetic movie, with a large cast so good that it's nearly unfair, really, is a blast.

Tom Hanks (as Ben Bradlee): "Not yet". They are documents that prove the United States government has known for years that the war in Vietnam is not winnable and covered that fact up through four presidencies, all the while sending more young men into battle, because losing wars isn't something the US does. But years later the government was still sending soldiers off to Vietnam, not to win but to forestall a humiliating defeat.

The film could have more accurately been called "The Kay Graham Story", as Spielberg creates an exaggerated and abbreviated personal trajectory for the publisher who inherited the reigns of what was just a regional newspaper when she became publisher when her husband died.

One of the few missteps is a sappy scene featuring the publisher and her grown-up daughter.

The former (Meryl Streep) was the first female publisher of a major American newspaper. Here, too, there are moments that are a bit overwrought-Graham descends the steps of the Supreme Court through a sea of women gazing at her in unabashed hero-worship-but it's a fascinating piece of character study, even if it's one that's more parallel to the central narrative than integrated into it. The New York Times has gotten its hands on The Pentagon Papers and intends to publish them.

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Tom Hanks (as Ben Bradlee): "If we don't hold them accountable, who will?" 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. The scenes set in the newsroom have an authentic feel.

Even though anyone who knows the history knows what will end up happening, the suspense is still palpable. Graham has to come to terms with the goals of the newspaper and journalism as a whole, and balance them with the friendships she has cultivated over the years with high-ranking government officials, among them Defense Secretary Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood), who is at the center of the Pentagon Papers.

- You need to see The Post. But this really is one of her best performances in a while, with a real arc to it as we see Graham's spine stiffen and eyes clear as she finds the strength to assert herself.

Spielberg occasionally hammers a little hard on the main message of "The Post", about the press's watchdog role against a deceitful presidency, but that doesn't make this story of First Amendment heroism any less compelling or necessary.

The large ensemble cast is given plenty to tear into - this is riveting, big-picture stuff about our country and how it works - so it's a shame the great Sarah Paulson, playing Bradlee's wife, is stuck with next-to-nothing to do but make concerned faces in the background and prepare sandwiches while the reporters do their work. "Show" partner David Cross. When the documents come to Graham and Bradlee, they are faced with the choice: publish and risk the paper, maybe even jail, or let the President silence the free press and hide the facts from the American people. "Many of the films have been fantastic, but yes, they should be made by women".

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