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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Post is director Steven Spielberg's historical drama about how the reporters, editors, and publishers of the Washington Post decided to follow the New York Times' lead and publish the top-secret Pentagon Papers in 1971. Starring Meryl Streep as Post publisher Kay Graham and Tom Hanks as executive editor Ben Bradlee, the drama is sociopolitically relevant and clearly a response to the current presidential administration's antagonistic relationship with the press. The movie promotes the sanctity of freedom of the press and its ability to expose political deceit and corruption. Graham's character also exemplifies how difficult it used to be (and still is) for female bosses to lead without being second-guessed or undermined. There's not much iffy stuff in the movie except for a few swear words and a quick opening scene that takes place during the Vietnam War. Families who watch together can discuss how the story relates to today and why freedom of the press is an important hallmark of American society.
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What's the story?
Director Steven Spielberg's THE POST follows the early '70s events leading up to the controversial publication of a classified study about the Vietnam War known as the Pentagon Papers in the Washington Post, after it was first leaked to the New York Times. When Post political reporter Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) discovers that source Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) has the same leaked documents the Times reported, Bagdikian brings a copy to his editor, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks). Bradlee must convince publisher Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) to publish articles that reveal how many administrations knew that America's involvement in the Vietnam War was futile. Graham trusts Bradlee but is cautioned by others against allowing him to publish, because it puts the paper's financial future at risk -- and opens her up to prosecution from the Nixon administration.
Is it any good?
Streep and Hanks shine in Spielberg's timely defense of the press and its freedom to expose corruption -- even when it implicates or embarrasses those in political power. Rather than focusing on Neil Sheehan and the New York Times' scoop of the Pentagon Papers, Spielberg chronicles how the Washington paper of record, and specifically its legendary female publisher, Graham, dealt with the decision to publish Ellsberg's top-secret documents. There was a lot more for Graham to lose by publishing -- the future of her business was at stake -- but she observes and listens to her advisors (all men) and then makes her own decision. Streep, as one would expect, is marvelous as "Mrs. Graham," a wealthy woman thrust into her family business's leadership role after her husband's unexpected suicide. But Graham is much more than a storied hostess and D.C. insider. She's thoughtful and intelligent, and she bravely stands up for herself in the face of concerned -- and condescending -- male confidants.
The acting ensemble is excellent overall, starting at the top with Streep and Hanks and trickling down to supporting players like Tracy Letts and Bradley Whitford as Graham's advisers, Odenkirk as Pulitzer-winning reporter Ben Bagdikian, and Sarah Paulson as Bradlee's then-wife, Tony. It's a master class in acting to watch Streep and Hanks share a scene. Despite Bradlee's outsize personality, Hanks doesn't chew the scenery, and Streep's nuanced performance shines -- especially in the moment when she reminds board members and friends that the newspaper doesn't belong to her late father or her husband, but to her. The events portrayed in The Post may have taken place in the early 1970s, but the themes -- women in power struggling with sexism, the press exposing the president, political cover-ups and corruption -- could have been taken from more recent headlines.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the story of the Post is relevant to today's relationship between politicians and the press. What parallels do you see? What differences?
How accurate do you think the movie is to what actually happened? Does the movie make you want to learn more about the history of the Pentagon Papers? Consider reading Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by award-winning nonfiction author Steve Sheinkin.
Why do you think Spielberg decided to concentrate on the Post's decision, rather than the Times'? Does that decision make it more relevant to what's going on between politicians and the press today?
- In theaters: December 22, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: April 17, 2018
- Cast: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Bob Odenkirk
- Director: Steven Spielberg
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History
- Character Strengths: Integrity
- Run time: 115 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: language and brief war violence
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