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‘In the Pentagon Papers case, the government asserted in the Supreme Court that the publication of the material was a threat to national security. It turned out it was not a threat to U.S. security. But even if it had been, that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t be published.’ – Alan Dershowitz
The political atmosphere of the Nixon administration has afforded Hollywood with a multitude of storylines over the past five decades. From the classic All the Presidents Men to the recent Elvis & Nixon, this may not have been a proud moment in US presidential history, but it is a fascinating environment for drama and intrigue. With the current world’s political climate, it is no surprise that Hollywood would revisit this era of conspiracy and espionage. Especially with Steven Spielberg directing Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep in the lead roles, The Post will be a frontrunner for Best Picture before it even gets released.
In 1971, the Washington Post was a respected regional paper but consistently remained in the shadow of the New York Times. Kay Grahame (Meryl Streep) had inherited the role of the publisher after the unfortunate death of her husband, Philip Grahame, who had been a powerhouse in the industry. As she was figuring out her capabilities in this new position, one of the paper’s most significant opportunities and challenges forced her into a leadership role. Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) was the charismatic and controversial editor who was continually searching for the means of gaining national notoriety when the staff were given access to confidential files called The Pentagon Papers. During these years in the early 70’s was a moment in history where the lines were getting blurred to the legality of releasing government documents and how this affected the freedom of the press. With both of their careers and the reputation of the paper on the line, they needed to determine the calculated risk of releasing the documents.
The Hanks/Spielberg combination has been a winner over the past few decades from Saving Private Ryan to Bridge of Spies, where most of the films have proven to be critical and financial successes. Then to add Meryl Streep into the mix qualifies this film to gain the critical attention that it needs as it goes into the awards season, but the question will be if it can draw people into the cinema during as well.
There are a few hurdles for Spielberg to overcome for this to move from a little docu-drama to a well-told suspense drama. With all of the films that have focused on this time in history and the administration of this president, can there be more to be said? Even with the strong performances of Hanks and Streep, the characters are not as compelling and lack the suspense of other films that focus on the Watergate saga. Unlike Bridge of Spies where Hanks plays an unsuspecting action hero that proves that drama, suspense and action are needed to support a compelling story was not seen in this historical account. The tension in this version of history is reliant on the moral situation of the employees of the Post and determining if they should break the law for the sake of the free press. Albeit a fascinating part of history, the whole experience is more tedious than suspenseful.
The Post does provide another look at a significant portion of the past with a marvellous cast and the direction of the film is in the hands of one of the most prolific men in cinematic history. Even with all of these stellar elements, it still begs the question of whether it needed to be made at all because it does not provide anything new to the telling of this portion of the political scene.
REEL DIALOGUE: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film?
When considering the moral dilemma of the publishers of the Washington Post as they consider whether or not to break the law of the land, it is worth contemplating how all of would respond to this situation. Things did work out for the Bradlee and Grahame, but they were still breaking the law. How are Christians supposed to respond in situations similar to this one?
An excellent place to begin is to look at the words of the Bible, specifically Acts 5:27-29, “And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than men!’”
These passages open the door to the discussion on how we are to respond to ‘the law of the land.’ If the law of the land does not contradict the law of God, we are to obey the laws established by our culture. It is when these laws begin to contradict God’s commands, we can consider contradicting this law and following God’s law. Before engaging in illegal activity, these decisions need to be weighed against the potential consequences it may lead to and how it will impact the testimony of those who choose to break the law.
If you continue to read Acts 5, Peter and John did break the law, but still were willing to accept the government’s authority. The result was temporarily painful but caused praise and celebration in these men. Following God’s law does not mean the elimination of difficulties, but awareness and peace in following God instead of ways of man.