Review / ‘The Post’ (M) *** and a half

THE Pentagon Papers, officially titled “United States – Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense”, form a history of America’s political-military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967.

They were prepared because Defense Secretary Robert McNamara wanted to leave a written record for historians, to prevent policy errors in future administrations. Since June 2011, they’re in the public domain. But in June 1971, when the “New York Times” published three front-page articles exposing their political implications, the Justice Department got a temporary restraining order against further publication, arguing that it was detrimental to US security.

Those events are the precursors to Steven Spielberg’s political thriller telling how the “Washington Post”, published by Katharine Graham, beat the “Times” to defying that order and published the papers. The world became aware of the resulting judicial, political and media furore. The US Supreme Court, by a 6-3 decision’ overturned the order but it was a close-run thing.

Scripted by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, “The Post” tells the story through the eyes of Mrs Graham and “Post” executive editor Ben Bradlee. Its events and principal personae may be totally American but that does not distort its impact as an example of cinema. Other films have dealt with the same events but their treatment lacks the detail of this one.

Or their authenticity, albeit occasionally flouted. The result is 116 minutes of cinema with power to engage your mind, activate your adrenaline and satisfy your senses.

Meryl Streep reflects Katharine Graham’s strength and courage without apparent effort, her external calm hiding an inner turmoil. Tom Hanks plays Bradlee with powerful conviction. And Spielberg’s control over the complexities of the whole affair is masterful. The promotional flood preceding the film’s arrival doesn’t exaggerate. And knowing the outcome doesn’t diminish its tensions.

At Dendy, Palace Electric, Capitol 6, Hoyts Belconnen, Limelight

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