Hanks and Streep Co-Star in Spielberg Freedom of the Press Period Piece
The Post is a picture fated to be compared to a couple of classic newsroom thrillers: All the President’s Men (1976) and Spotlight (2015). Like the former, it’s set in Washington, D.C. in the Seventies, and revolves around an attempt by the Nixon administration to prevent the publication of incriminating information leaked to the Washington Post by a whistleblower. And it’s eerily similar to the Best Picture Oscar-winner, Spotlight, in that they’re both ensemble dramas recounting an idealistic newspaper’s legal battle on behalf of Freedom of the Press.
Risk-averse Hollywood honchos have a very predictable habit of parroting success, which means it’s just a matter of time before a knockoff of a big hit arrives in theaters. In this case, Spotlight‘s Academy Award-winning scriptwriter, Josh Singer, was tapped to tweak first timer Liz Hannah’s original screenplay about the Pentagon Papers.
So it makes sense that one might have great expectations of the production, given that it was also directed by the legendary Steven Spielberg, and co-stars Tom Hanks and perennial Oscar-nominee Meryl Streep. But while the movie is certainly worth seeing, it’s actually a disappointment, given the cast and crew’s impressive pedigree.
The picture’s point of departure is Vietnam in 1966, which is where we find Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) on a fact-finding tour. Upon landing back in the States, he lies through his teeth on the tarmac to put a positive spin on the odds of America winning the war.
Fast-forward five years, which is when military analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) goes rogue after becoming disillusioned by the government’s continued cover-up. He then proceeds to turn over to the Washington Post and other publications an internal, Department of Defense report about the war. Dubbed the “Pentagon Papers,” the top secret files refute the irrationally-optimistic assessment being presented to the public by the president.
The decision to publish the documents was a no-brainer for the Post‘s editor, Ben Bradlee (Hanks), and owner, Katharine Graham (Streep). What ensued was a Constitutional crisis ultimately settled by the U.S. Supreme Court, which had to weigh the Freedom of the Press against President Nixon’s (Curzon Dobell) request for an injunction preventing dissemination of the classified documents in the interest of national security.
Too bad the story Spielberg opted to tell is primarily a tale of female empowerment that quite frankly doesn’t ring true. Why resort to politically-correct revisionist history reflecting present-day values when simply ratcheting up the tension around the original landmark legal case probably would’ve proved far more riveting?
Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity and brief violence
Running time: 115 minutes
Production Studios: Dreamworks Pictures / Amblin Entertainment / Participant Media
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Revisionist Biopic Recasts Disgraced Olympic Skater as Sympathetic Figure
On Jan. 6, 1994, while waiting to compete in the U.S. Figure Skating Championship competition, top-ranked Nancy Kerrigan’s (Caitlin Carver) knee was smashed by a billy club-wielding hit man named Shane Stant (Ricky Russert). After the cowardly attack in the halls of Detroit’s Cobo arena, the assailant quickly escaped with the help of a waiting getaway car driven by Derrick Smith (Anthony Reynolds).
The two had been hired by Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser) and Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), Tonya Harding’s (Margot Robbie) bodyguard and ex-husband, respectively. At the time, Tonya was vying with Kerrigan for a coveted spot on the U.S. Olympic team slated to compete in Norway the following month.
The injury prevented Kerrigan from skating at the trials, but the U.S. Olympic committee opted to award her one of the two slots, anyway. The other went to Harding who feigned having no knowledge of the attempt to break her main rival’s leg
However, the truth ultimately came out once all of the other participants in the conspiracy were arrested and brought to justice. For, the evidence found in the perpetrator’s possession included Kerrigan’s skating schedule and locations written in Tonya’s handwriting.
Furthermore, Eckhardt testified that Harding had not only orchestrated the brutal assault but had impatiently asked why it was taking them so long to get it over with. In the end, she did plead guilty to conspiracy, but was spared a jail sentence on the condition she paid a $160,000 fine, did 500 hours of community service, and promised to never skate competitively again.
Unfortunately, Hollywood has a long history of turning ruthless, real-life criminals into compassionate characters, including Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow (Bonnie & Clyde), Frank Abagnale (Catch Me if You Can) and Robert Stroud (Birdman of Alcatraz), to name a few. Courtesy of I, Tonya, Harding becomes just the latest in a long line of celluloid villains to receive such sympathetic treatment.
According to this ridiculous, revisionist biopic, she was blissfully unaware of any plan to harm Kerrigan. In fact, if anything, she was the victim here, having been born on the wrong side of the tracks and been raised by an abusive stage mom (Allison Janney) who forced her onto the ice and into the limelight against her will.
I suppose a quarter-century is long enough for some to forgive and forget the misdeeds of such a reprehensible creep. Sorry folks, but you’re going to have to look elsewhere to find a gullible critic willing to recommend this garbage, a total whitewash of Tonya’s checkered past, simply because the film does happen to feature a few great performances.
Not just a fake biopic, a totally fake biopic!
Poor (0 stars)
Rated R for violence, pervasive profanity, and some sexuality and nudity
Running time: 120 minutes
Production Studios: LuckyChap Entertainment / Clubhouse Pictures / AI Film
OPENING THIS WEEK
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
For movies opening Jan. 19, 2018
BIG BUDGET FILMS
12 Strong (R for violence and pervasive profanity) Adaptation of Horse Soldiers, Doug Stanton’s best-seller chronicling the declassified exploits of a Special Forces unit deployed to Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Co-starring Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, William Fitchner, Michael Pena, Rob Riggle and Trevante Rhodes.
Den of Thieves (R for violence, profanity, sexuality and nudity) Crime caper revolving around a seasoned team of bank robbers’ audacious plan to steal $120 million in cash from the L.A. branch of the Federal Reserve Bank. Cast includes Gerard Butler, 50 Cent, Pablo Schreiber and O’Shea Jackson, Jr.
Forever My Girl (PG for mature themes, mild epithets and alcohol consumption) Romance drama revolving around a country music star’s (Alex Roe) reunion with the childhood sweetheart (Jessica Rothe) he left at the altar a decade earlier when he returns home for his best friend’s funeral. Support cast includes John Benjamin Hickey, Abby Ryder and Travis Tritt.
The Leisure Seeker (R for sexuality and mature themes) Adaptation of Michael Zadoorian’s bittersweet best-seller about a couple of ailing octogenarians (Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland) who ignore doctors’ orders to embark on a final cross-country trip in their trusty RV. With Kirsty Mitchell, Janet Moloney and Joshua Mikel.
INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS
Delirium (R for violence and disturbing images) Harrowing horror flick about a just-discharged mental patient (Topher Grace) who inherits a haunted house from his recently-deceased parents (Robin Thomas and Daisy McCrackin). With Patricia Clarkson, Genesis Rodriguez and Callan Mulvey.
The Final Year (Unrated) Lame duck documentary chronicling the accomplishments of President Obama’s foreign policy team during his last months in office. Featuring behind-the-scenes footage of Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power.
Kangaroo (Unrated) Macropodidae marsupial documentary chronicling Australia’s long-standing love-hate relationship with its national animal.
Mama Africa (Unrated) Reverential documentary about Miriam Makeba (1932-2008), the South African singer/political activist who lived in exile until the end of Apartheid. Featuring archival footage of Nelson and Winnie Mandela, Kathleen Cleaver, Harry Belafonte and her husband, Stokely Carmichael. (In English and French with subtitles.)
Mary and the Witch’s Flower (PG for action and mature themes) Animated fantasy based on The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart, a children’s novel about a bored, 10-year-old (Hana Sugisaki) who escapes her humdrum life with the help of a magical broomstick which enables her to fly above the clouds. With Ryunosuke Kamiki, Yuki Amami and Fumiyo Kohinata. (In Japanese with subtitles.)
Mom & Dad (R for sexuality, nudity, teen drug use, disturbing violence and pervasive profanity) Selma Blair and Nicolas Cage play the title characters in this horror comedy about a day-long hysteria of unknown origin that turns parents all over the world into homicidal maniacs out to kill their own kids. Supporting cast includes Annie Winters, Lance Henriksen and Rachel Melvin.
Step Sisters (PG-13 for sexuality, crude humor, partying, profanity and drug references) Cross-cultural comedy about a Harvard Law School-bound black undergrad (Megalyn Echikunwoke) who decides to choreograph dance routines for her rhythmically-challenged, white sorority sisters so they can enter the annual step competition. With Eden Sher, Naturi Naughton, Destiny Lopez and Gage Golightly.