First Hit: A powerful film about the power of the press to share the truth to the American public and how a woman finds own her power and strength.
People who weren’t born early enough to experience the power of the press in 1971, as depicted in this film, may get a chance to witness this power with today’s political climate.
However, one of the most powerful parts of this film has nothing to do with the press, government secrets, or how the government lied to the public; it has to do with how a woman, Kay (Katharine) Graham (Meryl Streep), found her inner strength and resolve to make a decision that changed history.
Graham grew up privileged, pampered, and cared for. Her life was a world where men, for the most part, ruled the world and roost.
The film opens with her in the throes of finalizing a public offering of The Washington Post's stock. She’s doing this because she's in-charge and the company needs money to survive. When her father died, he'd given control of the paper to her husband who committed suicide which left her in control of the paper.
With a cadre of all male advisors, she is being coached through the steps to make The Post financially stable. However, she struggles to find her words while balancing her social duties as a well-to-do hostess of the Washington elite.
The scene where all the secretaries (that’s what assistants were called then) are gathered in front of the meeting room where she alone would enter a room full of male bankers and other investors, said it all.
As the film unfolds, we get a glimpse of the men she relied on to help her navigate the rough and tumble world of newspapers, the company, and finance. Among the men she works with were her Executive Editor, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), who seems to hold Graham in high regard and encourages her to stand up and take charge. Additionally there was Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) who was Secretary of Defense in the lying Nixon administration and a very close family friend of Graham’s. Then there was Fritz Beebe (Tracy Letts) the Post’s Chairman of the Board, in addition to a few others.
The issue that takes her to task and brings her to the forefront is that The New York Times has a headline written from the stolen Pentagon Papers. These secrets were taken from The Rand Corporation by Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys). On the same day The Times headlines this information, her paper has Trisha Nixon's wedding as their headline.
Ellsberg had discovered that the government, through a recent study sponsored by McNamara, had been lying to the country about our involvement in Vietnam.
With this exposed, Nixon's Department of Justice sent The New York Times a cease and desist. In the background, Bradlee, hating to be scooped by the Times sent Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) to find out how to get a copy of the leaked papers. They contact Ellsberg and get boxes of the original papers and begin to write stories to publish.
The awakening and climax is: Will Katharine publish the papers and risk being shut down by the government? Will it negate the public offering? And, will everyone at The Post lose their jobs? This is where the film really is dynamically excellent. The conversations Katharine has with her daughter Lally (Alison Brie), Bradlee, McNamara, and Letts are beautifully constructed and powerfully executed.
Streep was sublime as a woman discovering and then using her power. The evolution of Graham during this film is exquisite. Hanks is extremely strong in his role of protecting the freedom of the press. Odenkirk is fantastic as the assigned Post reporter to find the papers and get The Post back in the fray. Rhys was excellent as Ellsberg for whom I bow to for taking the risk of losing his freedom to tell US citizens the truth of our government’s deceit. Greenwood was great as McNamara. Serving Nixon and being honest with Graham, his friend, was a difficult task. Letts was strong as The Post’s chairman. He wanted and supported Katharine's growth. Brie was perfect as Graham’s daughter. Her role in the bedroom scene added so much to Katharine’s growth. Liz Hannah and Josh Singer wrote an excellent, inviting, and movingly strong script. Steven Spielberg hasn’t lost his touch to create ways for the audience to become fully engaged with his films. The scenes (living room with the papers strung about, the corporate boardroom, the rumbling of the presses starting up shaking the upstairs desks) are typical Spielberg, full, complete, and excellent. However, it was coaxing excellent performances where his ability to work with actors that shined most.
Overall: This film is perfect for the times; the growing strength of women and holding our government accountable.