Tempo grade: A+
All United States presidents and their administrations have kept secrets. In fact, their imperative to do so is one of the most staunchly defended facets of their working process in the national interest. All presidents and their administrations have also lied, but, to what extent or why is a question that can be argued ad nauseam.
In the case of the Vietnam War-era “Pentagon Papers,” both notions were placed under not only the harsh spotlight of public opinion but also their role in a landmark defense of the First Amendment, showing ultimately that no one is above the law – even the president himself, namely one Richard M. Nixon.
How the “Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force,” aka the “Pentagon Papers,” found their way into that spotlight is the subject of Steven Spielberg’s latest highly crafted populist thriller, “The Post.”
Starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, the film follows a roller coaster series of events in June 1971 after military analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) — who worked on the study and came to believe the Vietnam War was unwinnable — handed over portions to a columnist for The New York Times. Soon after, a writer for The Washington Post was contacted by Ellsberg and suddenly they too were in possession of large cardboard boxes of uncollated photocopied pages.
After the Times ran front page stories on it, the Department of Justice obtained a restraining order to stop them from publishing anything else on the study. Now, The Washington Post had the biggest decision in its history to make: Defy the DOJ and Nixon — who claimed executive authority — or risk jail for its owner and editor-in-chief (portrayed by Streep and Hanks, respectively).
Those are the broad strokes. In telling this tale, Spielberg puts the events into context by illustrating the inner workings of The Post, especially the relationships surrounding owner-publisher Katharine “Kay” Graham (Streep) and editor Ben Bradlee (Hanks).
For Bradlee, the playing field is made up of running down stories, finding confirmation for tips, and working with his talented staff to publish the highest standards of professional journalism. It’s a natch, of course, for Hanks.
For Kay, the nut is harder to crack and Streep is brilliant in her portrayal of a woman who has for much of her adult life lived in the shadow of her late husband, Philip Graham, who was given the paper by her father. This alone should clue you in to the state of gender politics of the time.
As a couple, they mingled freely with Washington society, becoming close friends with politicians and world leaders such as John and Jackie Kennedy, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, and U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) — who commissioned the study. But, after Philip’s death, Kay finds herself in unfamiliar territory, at the helm of a ship she seems uncomfortable steering and more at ease leaving big decisions to trusted advisors.
Her transformation in the heat of battle is a wonder to watch, personified for contemporary impact in a particularly stirring shot of her moving through a group of young women protesters who look at her with the kind of open admiration reserved for a genuine hero.
So, why were “The Pentagon Papers” such a bone of contention? I won’t spoil it for you if you aren’t familiar with this part of history, but suffice it to say its contents were a major force in helping the nation understand the origins of the Vietnam War.
The cover-up to keep them secret drills into the heart of our national leader’s romance with secrets and lies. And, of course, what happened upon their release, speaks to issues swirling today over a chief executive’s conduct regarding power and privilege. It is stirring and gives one hope that the checks and balances built into our system of government will provide the answers we sorely need.
In the movie, Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black is quoted saying, “In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.”
The film co-stars Sarah Paulson, Bon Odenkirk, Bradley Whitford, Jesse Plemons, David Cross and Alison Brie.
“The Post” is rated PG-13 for language and brief war violence.
It is being screened daily at Mitchell Storyteller Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For show times, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4245 or visit storyteller7.com.
Also showing in Taos
The following were compiled from press materials.
MPAA rating: R for language, sexual content, brief graphic nudity and teen partying
Movies at the TCA
In “Lady Bird,” director Greta Gerwig reveals herself to be a bold new cinematic voice with her directorial debut, excavating both the humor and pathos in the turbulent bond between a mother and her teenage daughter.
Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) fights against but is exactly like her wildly loving, deeply opinionated and strong-willed mom (Laurie Metcalf), a nurse working tirelessly to keep her family afloat after Lady Bird’s father (Tracy Letts) loses his job.
Set in Sacramento, Calif. in 2002, amid a rapidly shifting American economic landscape, “Lady Bird” is an affecting look at the relationships that shape us, the beliefs that define us, and the unmatched beauty of a place called home.
“Lady Bird” recently won Golden Globe Awards for Best Motion Picture-Musical or Comedy and Best Actress – Motion Picture Comedy or Musical for Saoirse Ronan.
This film will be screened at 2 p.m. Sunday (Jan. 21) and at 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday (Jan. 22-24).
Movies at the TCA, Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. For tickets and additional information, call the Taos Center for the Arts at (575) 758-2052 or visit tcataos.org.
MPAA rating: PG for some action and mild rude humor
Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres
“Paddington 2” finds the delightful bear, Paddington, happily settled with the Brown family in Windsor Gardens, where he has become a popular member of the community, spreading joy and marmalade wherever he goes.
While searching for the perfect present for his beloved Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday, Paddington spots a unique pop-up book in Mr. Gruber’s antique shop, and embarks upon a series of odd jobs to buy it. But when the book is stolen, it’s up to Paddington and the Browns to unmask the thief.
Helmed by twice BAFTA nominated director Paul King, “Paddington 2” stars Hugh Grant, Ben Whishaw, Sally Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson and Julie Walters.
This film is screening daily.
Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For showtimes, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4145 or visit storyteller7.com.