(director: Steven Spielberg; screenwriter: Liz Hannah/Josh Singer; cinematographer: Janusz Kaminski; editor: Michael Kahn/Sarah Broshar; music:John Williams; cast: Tom Hanks (Ben Bradlee), Meryl Streep ( Katharine Graham), Bob Odenkirk (Ben Bagdikian), Carrie Coon (Meg Greenfield), Alison Brie (Lally Weymouth), Bruce Greenwood (Robert McNamara), Tracy Letts (Fritz Beebe), Bradley Whitford(Arthur Parsons), Matthew Rhys (Daniel Ellsberg), Jesse Plemons (Roger Clark), Sarah Paulson (Tony Bradlee), David Cross (Howard Simons), Jessie Mueller (Judith Martin); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Amy Pascal/Kristie Macosko Krieger/Steven Spielberg; Dreamworks/20th Century Fox; 2017)

“A gripping political drama, set in 1971.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Steven Spielberg (“Bridge of Spies”/”Saving Private Ryan“) passionately directs a gripping political drama, set in 1971, about the courage of the country’s first female newspaper publisher, Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), of the Washington Post, and its dedicated crusading editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks). When the illustrious NY Times publishes excerpts from a military expert from the Rand Corporation, Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), who saved the Pentagon Papers and leaks them to expose a massive cover-up that went back to the Truman administration, the story catches fire with the war protesters. We learn that during the Viet Nam War the Defense Secretary McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) lies about the war being winnable and hides from the public that the Pentagon Papers said it wasn’t winnable. The Secretary then criminally steps up the war effort. When a local paper, at the time, the Washington Post, also gets that leaked government secret report from Ellsberg and prints it despite the threat of jail time for the publisher and editor, the story is effectively dramatized and a great story from a great storyteller emerges. Writers Liz Hannah and Josh Singer base the drama on a true story and keep it exciting despite the subject matter being common knowledge, especially to those who lived through those nightmarish war days. The ensemble cast that includes Alison Brie, Carrie Coon, David Cross, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, Sarah Paulson, Matthew Rhys, Michael Stuhlbarg, Bradley Whitford and Zach Woods, all give marvelous performances. In today’s hateful and ignorant Trump administration, the film acts as a reminder of the importance of the freedom of the press and the rebuff of Nixon’s attempt to lie to the public about his war policies and silence the press paved the way for the call to impeach him. It’s a stern reminder of how the current President is cut from the same cloth and is so unhinged over real news that like Nixon becomes unfit to carry on his duties without being unjust. It follows another recent great newspaper expose movie, Spotlight, as films that matter and are also entertaining. While on target about the historical Watergate event that was soon to bring down the President, Spielberg also revels in the film’s many stylish intimacies that range from showing the fright on Streep’s face as she wrestles with her socialite conscience on whether to publish the leaked information and to the time the reporter Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) is dropping coins while nervously calling his source from a public telephone booth. That Hanks and Streep are so good in it, shouldn’t surprise anyone.