The subject matter of The Post doesn’t sound like the type of subject matter that would win a big crowd, but it is a film worth seeing.
The story goes back in 1966 during the Vietnam War. Military analyst Daniel Ellsberg is in Vietnam with General Robert McNamara to document the progress of the war. McNamara admits to Ellsberg and President Johnson that the war is hopeless but has confidence in the effort, leaving Ellsberg disillusioned.
Years later, Ellsberg is now working for a military contractor and comes across classified documents showing the US’s decades-long involvement in the conflict in Vietnam going back to just a few years after World War II ended. Ellsberg discloses the documents to the New York Times.
It’s 1971. Katharine Graham is head of the Washington Post. It’s been a position she mastered with a lot of difficulty as it’s commonly seen as a ‘man’s position.’ Even though her family founded the Post, the position of the head went to her husband Philip instead of her. It was right after Philip’s suicide that Katharine became head. It’s not easy for a female to be head of a newspaper. Especially someone like Graham who has a good work ethic, but lacks experience and is constantly overruled by the aggressiveness of the men of the Post. On top of that, she seeks to gain an IPO for a stock market launch to propel the Post to greater strength. The Washington Post however is second-fiddle to the New York Times which always has the biggest news scoops, even the scoops of what’s happening in Washington.
Editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee is one of the men who work for her. He tries in vain to be one step ahead of the New York Times in coming up with the latest scoops, but falls short each time. Meanwhile McNamara, who is a friend of Graham’s, confesses to her of how he’s the subject of bad news in the New York Times. It’s through their constant expose of the government’s deception of the American public. However a court injunction blockades any further publication of such news by the Times.
Ellsberg is willing to provide the documents and opportunity to the Post to publish the stories. As they look through the stories to publish, lawyers to the Post advise against publishing the story, fearing the Nixon administration will press criminal charges. Graham seeks advice from McNamara, Bradlee and Post chairman Fritz Beebe of whether to publish. It’s made even more frustrating when the lawyer note that since the sources are the same as the New York Times, Graham herself could be charged with contempt of court. It’s a gamble. Graham risks terminating the newspaper her family established. Alternatively, the Post won such a legal battle, it would establish itself as a major journalism source, much on the same level as the New York Times.
She agrees to have the story published. The White House retaliated by taking both the Times and the Post to the Supreme Court to argue their case of publishing classified document information being a First Amendment Right. Both newspapers receive almost unanimous support from the other newspapers in the US and they win their Supreme Court battle 6-3. An infuriated Nixon bans the Post from the White House. And the rest is infamy… for Nixon.
The film is more than just about a top secret story that needed to be exposed and makes journalism history. The story is also about the newspaper behind the story. We shouldn’t forget that this came at a time when The New York Times was the newspaper that delivered the biggest news about what was happening in the Oval Office and the ones to do it first. Even though the Washington Post was the newspaper of Washington, DC, it was more of a second-fiddle newspaper like the newspapers of the rest of the cities. The New York Times lead and all other newspapers, including the Washington Post followed. This story allowed the Washington Post take pole position towards what was happening in Washington. This would also allow for the Washington Post to be the prime newspaper to go to upon the breaking of the Watergate Scandal. Even despite the Post competing against the Times, they united when they faced the heat of the freedom-of-speech debate and won together.
The film is not simply about a history-making story, a legal breakthrough or even a milestone for a newspaper. It’s also the personal story of Katharine Graham and how she had to achieve greatness for herself. Katharine Graham was born into the paper and assumed control of it right after her husband died. It was always tradition that a man headed the newspaper. After the suicide of her husband, she headed it. The paper her ancestors founded and the paper she wants to propel into marketability. This news story could help be the boost she needed, but the court injunction against the New York Times causes her to put it on hold. Basically she’s gambling everything with this touchy story: the Times, her status as a leader, her role as a woman with power, her role as a mother, even her own personal freedom. In the end, that one decision caused left all of us convinced she did the right thing. She did more than just allow a story. She did more than boost the profile of the Washington Post. She created a breakthrough in freedom of speech and freedom of press. On top of that, she earned the respect from her male colleagues. That was rare back in the early 70’s.
This story is very relevant to the present. We always hear those words ‘fake news.’ We have a feeling that Donald Trump is like a big brother monster who wants to control everything. There are often times in which I wonder if the times of Nixon were worse than the times of Trump. I know all about Nixon and his lust for control. Whatever the times, the story and the court ruling against government censorship of the press serves as a reminder to all citizens that the press has the right to publish the truth to the public. The ruling of the New York Times vs. The United States of America back then was clear: “‘In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors.” That ruling still applies today.
Leave it to Steven Spielberg to direct a story that will capture our intrigue. Some would describe this type of story as a ‘boring story.’ Steven Spielberg knows how to direct it into something interesting and have us glued to the screens. The screenplay by Josh Singer and Liz Hannah also creates the right interest and intrigue. They’re able to take the chain of events surrounding the publishing of the story and turn it into a story of intrigue. Even a story from a humanist side.
Once again, Meryl Streep delivers in creating depth in a public figure. She gave Katharine Graham the right dimension and the right humanistic tone to make the story work. Tom Hanks also does an excellent job in his role as Ben Bradlee. He delivers in the character very well as he adds some dimension to Bradlee too. The supporting actors may have minor or limited roles, but they add to the film too. Janusz Kaminski does an excellent job of cinematography and John Williams again delivers a fitting score.
The Post is a journalism story that will keep one intrigued. It’s a story that’s very relevant today as it’s also about our own right to know the truth.
Musicals are always very chancy in terms of putting them on screen, especially if they’re an adaptation of a legendary musical. Try putting an original musical on screen. That’s what God Help the Girl does. It comes off surprisingly well.
The film starts with Eve singing about the difficulties of being young. Mind you Eve does have her problems as she has an eating disorder which brings her to a psychiatric hospital. Her counselor there tells her she needs guidance to make it out in the world. Eve is defiant and breaks out of the hospital to head to Glasgow to make music.
Over in a Glasgow pub, she meets up with James who leaves his band after an on-stage fight with the drummer. James is an aspiring songwriter who works part-time as a lifeguard and teaches guitar to Cassie, a naive daughter of a rich family. A relationship cooks up with James over time. After meeting Cassie, the three of them spend a lot of time together and compose songs.
Eve is also looking for exposure and hopes to get it through Anton, a singer of the band Wobbly-Legged Rat who’s star is on the rise thanks to a local radio station promoting them. Eve gives Anton her tape hoping it will make it to the radio station and a relationship is brews between the two. The three form a band after James convinces Eve she needs a bass and drum for her songs. They call their band God Help The Girl and they perform a gig and knock the socks of the crowd.
However not all is well as Eve learns that Anton, who’s too arrogant for his own good, never gave the tape to the station, claiming her music lacks professionalism. The two argue and Eve walks off. To make matters worse James finds out about her relationship with Anton and is distraught to the point of distancing himself from her. That leads Eve back to taking pills and returning to the hospital. She meets again with the counselor who tells her she warned her about rushing out into the world on her own. Eventually Eve decides on her own path. The ending is not what one would expect but is fittingly appropriate for the film.
I have to say this is is a brave attempt from Stuart Murdoch to create an original musical and bring it to the big screen. It’s been a long time since there has been something like this. Musicals are always a risk to bring to the big screen whether they’re original or adapted. It’s obvious that God Help The Girl had some risks of their own. There are a few times that leave you wondering is the film lulls back into being a story and makes you forget it’s a musical until the next song comes on. Those who know big-screen musicals know about the feel of a musical on screen. There were a few times I felt the film lost its feel. The musical parts were very good and were able to stay away from crossing the line of cheesy most of the time but I did notice some imperfections. Even having Eve with an eating disorder makes you wonder if that would make fans of musicals uncomfortable.
One thing I liked about this musical is that it had a lot of songs that gives one the look and feel of the excitement of 60’s rock ‘n roll. The songs for the most part are loaded with energy and really capture the essence of what it is to be young. Another unique thing about this musical is that it musically showed how a lot of the best songs are inspired. We see a lot of themes in God Help The Girl that are quite common in rock and roll songs such as the frustration of fitting in this world, feelings of love and the bizarre love triangles that arise. We also get another reminder about rock and roll. Just after Eve left for college to pursue music, James declares “I think she wrote her best music here.”
The funny thing about this film is that it includes the music from a group called God Help The Girl. For those who don’t know, God Help The Girl was an all-girl group formed by Belle and Sebastian lead singer Stuart Murdoch. They were formed for one time only in 2008 for an album that was eventually released in 2009. The film God Help The Girl is a musical set to those songs and is directed by Murdoch.
I don’t want to go into the subject of ego-tripping but Murdoch puts together a well-constructed and well-written musical that is entertaining. There are some noticeable imperfections in the choreography and editing but the film is mostly together. I also think this will be Murdoch’s only directing effort as I don’t see him directing any other movies in the future. Emily Browning is very good as the protagonist and is able to sing well in her first on screen singing role. Olly Alexander was also very good. He’s the opposite of Emily where he’s actually a singer in a band rather than an actor. Nevertheless he did very well. Hannah Murray was very convincing as the young naive Cassie. The three of them made an excellent trio full of chemistry. Pierre Boulanger was good but his role as Anton was underdeveloped and could have been more.
God Help The Girl was nominated at the Sundance Film Festival for the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize and won a Special Jury award for the ensemble. It was even nominated for the Crystal Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival. It has just been released in the US the last weekend of September and has just fizzled out with just grossing over $100,000. I blame it on the lack of promotion. I think it will develop a better afterlife as a Broadway musical. There’s no talk of a musical version of the film yet but I feel it has a lot of potential of being a hit in that format.
God Help The Girl is a flawed but entertaining original made-for-the-big-screen musical. Oddly enough I think I sensed a bit of Beatlemania there.