Movie Diary 1/22/2018


Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep: The Post

The Post (Steven Spielberg, 2017). I am going to apply the principle that any newspaper film should be judged by the standard of whether Sam Fuller would have approved of it. I think The Post passes that test. Spielberg weaves from well-executed procedural stuff to big-headline political statements, including a few messages printed in bold. It’s sometimes blunt moviemaking but it’s driven by the urgency that at this moment in history telling a good yarn is not enough. I can’t argue with that, or at least I don’t want to right now. The very end of the film is case in point. (Not really spoilers, ‘cuz, you know, it’s history.) The Pentagon Papers section concludes, and Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) has a line about how she never wants to go through that again, and har har, because we know Watergate’s coming – then Spielberg just goes ahead and shows a scene at the Watergate, the night of the break-in. This is Spielberg in Schindler mode, making a document, and you can roll your eyes at the gaucheness of spelling it out, but he’s got a point – there are millions of Americans who have never heard of Watergate. But two things make this justified. One is the suggestion that the end of the story is never the end, that there’s always another eruption of malfeasance about to happen (“The end of this story can only be written by you” – the end credit of Samuel Fuller’s Run of the Arrow). The other is the final image, and Spielberg’s power as a visualizer: a shot, from across the street or some hanging-in-air space outside the Watergate, of a bank of windows, darkened inside but with the burglar’s flashlights dodging about, and on the other side of the frame an African-American night watchman whose diligence changed history. (Thoughout The Post, as in so much of Spielberg, there’s an inclusive eye for how little people on the periphery may play important roles in the story.) That vision – lights dancing in the darkness, beautifully framed by a distance that sets the image in history – is echt-Spielberg, a born moviemaker even when he wants to play journalist.