“The Post” is quite simply a story about two very brave, courageous people and a newspaper. The woman who ran the Washington Post, and the man who has been described as the greatest newspaper editor of his generation, were both well known and highly placed in Washington’s cocktail universe.

The woman, Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), reluctant owner of the soon-to-be the most powerful newspaper in America, and her editor-in-chief, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), found themselves square in the eye of a political tornado.

But at its heart, the film is about the team of old time newspaper heroes, who surrounded Bradlee and Graham and contributed their own talents, and put together in a matter of days, a front page story that would rock Washington and rattle the country.

This then, is the story of two seemingly innocuous cardboard boxes of papers that came to be called “The Pentagon Papers.” They would soon become anything but harmless. They were, in fact, a paper history of the great American tragedy called Vietnam, the men who created it, kept the river of blood flowing, and the men and women who exposed it.

Seven days in 1971 are played out here day by day, hour by hour, as Graham and Bradlee and team uncover the dirty secrets of the Vietnam War.

The Pentagon Papers, a secret 7,000-page study of America’s dark and bloody involvement in that war had been ordered by then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, serving under President Richard Nixon.


They were discovered by Daniel Ellsberg, a former Harvard economist, who went on to become a military analyst. Ellsberg, who fought on the ground in Vietnam while covering the war, was stunned by what he learned. He then leaked them to the New York Times.

When Nixon squashed the Times’ effort to publish them, Ellsberg, working through the dramatic efforts of reporter Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) got them to the Washington Post, then just a small newspaper struggling to stay afloat.

Those are the facts, and how it got to the screen is a dramatic story in its own right. A young, unpublished screenwriter, Liz Hannah, took the facts, the sketches of the characters involved, and wrote a first draft. She somehow got it to the desk of producer Amy Pascal, and the rest is history.

Also, credit goes to writer Josh Singer, who co-wrote “Spotlight,” about the Boston clerical abuse scandal.

In true Hollywood fashion, a bidding war broke out overnight. Soon one call led to another, and director Steven Spielberg came aboard the project.

“The Post” is not one of those talking heads documentaries. It is nothing less than a first rate thriller, political mystery and heart-stopping drama, not unlike “All The President’s Men,” full of dark rooms and night streets, the damning papers laid out on two beds in a cheap motel.


All of this was dug up and exposed by the bravery of Daniel Ellsberg (convincingly played here by Matthew Rhys), who was arrested and charged under the Espionage Act.

Spielberg took the basic energy that is built into the story, and skillfully weaponized it into a barrage of cannon shot scenes that never let up.

Sarah Paulson, as Bradlee’s wife Tony, has little to do here, but does it well and we all know her real story is yet to be filmed.

Bruce Greenwood beautifully emerges as an eerie replication of McNamara, engaged in two powerful showdown scenes with Streep.

Moving in and out of the flow is the great Bob Odenkirk (“Better Call Saul”) as Bagdikian, who found Ellsberg and was assigned to transport the fabled boxes by plane (“The Post” had to secretly reserve two seats) and car to Bradlee’s home.

The sweet touch is added in the final heart-stopping conclusion — the historical decision by the United States Supreme Court.

As one player remarked, “You can’t make stuff like this up.”

J.P. Devine, of Waterville, is a former stage and film actor.

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