No book review this week, I’m afraid. I never made it through the Yuvan Levin book, estimable as it is. I just ground to a halt with it, but I’m glad I got as far as I did. You, oh estimable readers, may have more of a mind able to absorb dense political analysis than I do. Levin’s a great guy, and very clear and thoughtful. If you’re like me and don’t want to wade through the thickets, here’s a podcast in which he appears: “Why Can’t We Have Nice Things?” hosted by the estimable (although somewhat giggly) Jonah Goldberg.
But Jim and I did finally make it to The Post, the new movie about the publication of the Pentagon Papers by The Washington Post. What a total treat! Any movie that has Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep is going to be great even if they’re just reading the phone book. I said to Jim as the credits came on, “I’d like to just sit here and watch it all over again.” So I’d urge you to go watch it, or at least make sure to see it when it comes out on Netflix or Amazon. I’ll tell you why I liked it
so much, but I will first of all be fair and point out that the storyline isn’t completely accurate. As many critics have pointed out, the title of the movie should really have been The Times. The NYT had had the Pentagon Papers for months and had been poring over them and analyzing them, getting ready to publish and then actually getting a couple of stories out but were then were stopped by a restraining order pushed by the Nixon administration. In the meantime WaPo swooped in and scooped the story, throwing together a piece in a matter of hours. Also, WaPo was in the midst of its first public stock offering, an action that is presented in the movie as this push to be able to pay more reporters to create great news but which had a more complicated origin.
But enough of that. I’m afraid that I’m amassing a set of actual historical women whom I don’t like as well as I do Streep’s portrayals of them. Her performance in the movie Julie and Julia is far more appealing to me than that of Julia Child herself. I watch those episodes of the real “The French Chef” and long for Streep to come on camera instead. Oh well. The movie is well worth seeing just to watch her, and I loved seeing the clothes she wears. So elegant. And the interplay between her and Hanks’ characterization of the chief editor at the Post, Ben Bradlee, is just priceless. So go for the acting first of all.
But what really drives the movie is the story, and it’s one that has gotten overshadowed by the Watergate scandal and Nixon’s resignation. The Pentagon Papers were a historical record about the Vietnam War produced in 1967 by the US government under the leadership of Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense. They showed that there had been lies told to the American people during administrations dating back to Truman about the US involvement in this part of the world, and that the war was kept going mainly because no one wanted to admit that it was a failure. This view of the war, by the way, ties in very neatly with the Ken Burns documentary that aired late last year, although there are military sources who say that the war has been portrayed as unwinnable when in fact it was not. I won’t get into that. The issues that resonate in the film are the ones that resonate today in our current political climate: How free is our press? How seriously do we take our First Amendment? How willing are we to give a voice and a hearing to those with whom we disagree?
The film very cleverly ends with a security guard discovering that there’s a burglary going on in the Watergate complex at the Democratic National Committee headquarters. So we know that there’ll be only a breath or two before that scandal breaks. When Jim and I got home from the theater, it was still early enough that I suggested we watch All the President’s Men, the classic movie about the breaking of the Watergate story by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein at, again, the Washington Post. I was decidedly underwhelmed, I must say, which is often my response when I see a movie that’s supposed to be “classic” and “timeless.” So I won’t recommend that you take the time to watch it. It seemed . . . thin.
But do watch The Post. I found it, in the end, to be very hopeful and optimistic. Yes, we can get the truth out there. Yes, people do want to know what’s going on with their government. As the saying goes, “Truth is the daughter of time.” Also, as quoted by Martin Luther King, Jr., “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” (King’s quotation is often misused; read this good article about it here.)
Anywho, as they say! Go out and watch this great film. It’s well worth your time.