It’s no big secret in Hollywood that some actors gravitate towards certain directors because they collaborate well together and have great synergy: Robert De Niro/Martin Scorsese, Johnny Depp/Tim Burton, Samuel L. Jackson/Quentin Tarantino and Sharlto Copley/Neill Blomkamp just to name a few. Over the decades Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg have quietly developed a rapport that puts them in the same category even if their individual filmographies are impressive on their own by any standard. The latest Spielberg release, ‘The Post,’ marks the fifth film directed by Spielberg starring Tom Hanks in a major role and proved once again that Hanks/Spielberg is a powerful combo in Tinseltown.
Like their previous collaborations ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and ‘Bridge of Spies,’ ‘The Post’ is informed by our past, as much a lesson steeped in American history as an exercise in cinematic entertainment. The subject this time is the leak and subsequent publication of the “Pentagon Papers” that put the final nail in the coffin of the unpopular Vietnam War. For the uninitiated, the “Pentagon Papers” is a 1967 RAND think tank study commissioned by then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara which concluded that the Vietnam War is ultimately futile and unwinnable. Long before the era of WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden, a patriot (or traitor whistle-blower depending on your political leaning) and former RAND staffer named Daniel Ellsberg managed to smuggle volumes of the study out from under the very noses of his unwitting employers. ‘The Post’ tells the story of how the New York Times first broke the story but fumbled the ball under intense White House and Justice Department pressure, only for the Washington Post to pick it up and score the winning touchdown. Okay, enough football analogies already.
Anchored by multiple Oscar winners Hanks, Spielberg and Meryl Streep (nine statues among them in case you're wondering), ‘The Post’ certainly has a lot going in its favor. And it did not disappoint. The movie gives us much food for thought, such as Freedom of the Press and the First Amendment, the power and responsibility of the “Fourth Estate,” and the perils of the “Imperial Presidency.” Beyond all the politics, however, this highly competent and well-crafted film also gives us solid and humane characterizations in Hanks’s publisher Ben Bradlee and Streep’s newspaper heiress Kay Graham. If you thought publishing the “Pentagon Papers” was an easy decision to make that didn’t require much consideration and hand-wringing, think again.