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The Post

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

The Post

The Post does a grand job of filling in the cracks of a major historical scandal. It often takes a long time to do that – in this case five decades. Over time, the primary players confess in regret or die in silence while others feel entitled at last to pull together the details of a major event.

This movie shows us the threads of the Pentagon Papers case that ignited Watergate. Those threads were suppressed under four administrations while American boys died in Vietnam. Now they are given us by Tom Hanks as Post editor Ben Bradlee, Meryl Streep as Post owner Kay Graham, and the fine director Steven Spielberg.

At the outset, Bradlee is editor of The Post when it was considered just Washington’s local newspaper. Kay Graham’s husband, editor of the paper, has recently committed suicide. Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) is a Post journalist on assignment in Vietnam to assess the validity of the controversial war.

Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), thoroughly disillusioned by the human cost of the war, risks taking five thousand pages of incriminating papers to the New York Times from his job at Rand. A judge shuts down publication by the Times.

Ellsberg then delivers those papers to The Post where Bradlee and Graham explore both the politics of the Vietnam war and the possible consequences if they publish the papers. Prison sentences and destruction of their paper hang over their heads as a possibility.

As Tom Hanks literally becomes Ben Bradlee, we drop fully into the story. He gives us Bradlee’s determination to publish if he can convince Kay Graham it is the right thing to do. Meryl Streep’s Kay Graham, now owner after her husband’s suicide, gets a fast course in courage. She must decide whether to risk everything by publishing the papers the court has forbidden. In that process, she shows us Graham’s deep mix of brains and courage that had been used before her husband’s death in social and volunteer situations. Together Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep bring these two figures to fighting life and lift the movie to top of 2017. Both are thoroughly convincing.

Matthew Rhys’s Daniel Ellsberg is a deeply caring idealist determined to stop the dying of American boys in a political war. Rhys endows Ellsberg with a brave mixture of courage and fear.

We see glimpses of the future (this was 1971) in short shots of Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson as they argued and covered the truth of that war while allowing it to continue. The movie tackles and exposes the bi-partisan wrongs of the war and shows us the enormous courage Kay Graham showed in encouraging Ben Bradlee to publish at great risk to all of them and to their paper. A short final shot reminds us that the release of the Pentagon Papers led to the biggest scandal in American political history. We look forward to watching this same cast deliver the story of Watergate.

Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : The Post
Word Count: 495
Running Time: 2:33
Rating: PG-13
Date: 21 January 2018

 

Darkest Hour

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Darkest Hour

When Winston Churchill became England’s Prime Minister in 1940, he was already an accomplished man. He had served his country in the Military during World War I and had received a Nobel Prize for literature. He ascended at a time of political chaos and controversy as his country watched Nazi Germany absorb Europe. It certainly was England’s Darkest Hour.

This movie brings that dark period to life under the hand of director Joe Wright and a cast of fine actors who literally drop us into the government chaos as England faced imminent attack on their own country after the fall of Europe. As the movie opens, we watch the superb actor Gary Oldman begin his portrait of the complicated Churchill who is wrestling with both the dissension in Parliament and his own unpopularity.

As Churchill works toward his ultimate refusal to surrender to Germany, we watch him explore his position and write it out with the help of his trusted typing assistant Elizabeth Layton. She is played by Lily James with beautiful serenity and depth that cover her own fears. The rest unfolds in the explosive atmosphere of the angry Parliament and in periodic appearances by Churchill’s wife Clemmie (Kristin Scott Thomas) who knows exactly how to support her husband and prod him forward.

Director Wright and his cameramen roam the halls of power in the relative safety of the dark underground world beneath London. He focuses on the angry chaos of the decision makers – Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup), Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane), and King George (Ben Mendelsohn). In answer to Churchill’s plea for help, Franklin D. Roosevelt delivers the depressing message that America has signed neutrality agreements. In a strong scene, Churchill boards a subway to learn how British citizens are feeling about surrender vs. battle. They reinforce his instincts.

Atop this atmosphere, Gary Oldman is outstanding. With padding and jowls that make him thoroughly credible, Oldman has been fashioned into a genuine look-a-like for the prime minister, a stroke that allows viewers to sink thoroughly into the 1940 reality the movie is presenting. Oldman gives us all the twists and turns of Churchill’s unique self as he wrestles with the options under debate by his peers. This brings to life that narrow slice of history when England stood alone against Germany and paints the rise of Churchill as he takes on his opponents and ultimately sets the future course of England and Europe.

The historical time, the place, the story – all are beautifully done; but it is Gary Oldman who slips into that complicated time with a deeply thoughtful creation of one of history’s most crucial players. When he snarls, “You can’t reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth,” it says all that needs to be said of England’s dire situation. Director Wright is not afraid to allow long pauses as emphasis for complex and important statements. Or as Churchill’s opponent says, “He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.”

Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Darkest Hour
Word Count: 501
Running Time: 2:05
Rating: PG-13
Date: 7 January 2018