If anyone can send me a recent draft of Liz Hannah‘s script for The Post, the fast-track Steven Spielberg film about the Pentagon Papers crisis of 1971 that landed the Washington Post and the N.Y. Times in the crosshairs of the Nixon administration, please advise.
As recently reported by Deadline‘s Mike Fleming, The Post will begin shooting this May with 20th Century Fox intending to open it by December. Obviously a locked-in, ratified, slam-dunk Best Picture contender. So far it has Tom Hanks as Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee and Meryl Streep as Post publisher Katherine Graham.
Just as United 93 focused on the entire air-traffic control confusion of 9/11 and not just the specific incidents aboard that fateful United Airlines flight, The Post will need to tell the whole Pentagon Papers story — most of it happening over a 17-day period in June 1971 — and not just the Washington Post‘s side of things,
First and foremost because Sheehan and the Times were the first to spill the beans, and in so doing proved that the Johnson administration lied over and over about the Vietnam War. The Post got in on the action five days after the Times began publishing Pentagon Papers excerpts on 6.13.71, and of course they and the Times got into a major Supreme Court battle with the Nixon administration over the right to publish such material.
On 6.30.71 the Supremes decided in favor of the Post and other newspapers who had published Pentagon Papers content, 6–3, stating that the Nixon gang had failed to meet the heavy burden of proof required for prior restraint injunction.
I’m hoping that The Post won’t exude an air of platitudinous liberal sanctimony and rectitude…please. It has to be tough and scrappy and paced like a suspense thriller.
Why am I voicing this concern? This was a proud, difficult and highly honorable chapter in American journalism, one that stands as a reminder that we need a ballsy press all the more in the face of the Trump administration’s outrageous corruption. Okay, I’ll tell you why I said that.
If The Post was about to be directed by, say, David Fincher or the late Sidney Lumet or someone of their calibre, I would be tingling with excitement. But The Post will be a Beardo movie, and that means it could turn out to be, God help us, a Lincoln-like thing. By this I mean scene after scene of sturdy, connected D.C. types, constantly shot in medium close-ups, talking about an important moral/ethical issue and whether or not other people of importance and influence will recognize what’s at stake and do the right thing.
I’m also terrified that on one level or another The Post will turn out to resemble Lions for Lambs (’07), Redford’s still-born talkathon about the Bush administration’s post-9/11 Middle East war policies.
Yes, we’d all love to see another All The President’s Men, but you can’t go home again. You have to start fresh and do your own heavy lifting, obviously according to your own wits and instincts and music in your soul, and that’s never easy.
On top of which ATPM had a testy dynamic between Robert Redford‘s Bob Woodward, a dutiful straight-laced WASP type, and Dustin Hoffman‘s pushy, obsessive, cigarette-smoking Carl Bernstein plus those beautiful encounters with Hal Holbrook‘s Deep Throat, Ned Beatty‘s Dade County attorney Martin Dardis, Jane Alexander‘s Judy Hoback Miller and Nicholas Coster‘s “Markham” (“I’m not here”).
Jason Robards was great as Ben Bradlee, of course, not to mention all the other Post journalists who had speaking roles (Martin Balsam, Jack Warden, Lindsay Crouse), but most or much of the stuff you remember from ATPM happened outside the Post headquarters. Balsam’s use of the term “garage freak,” Beatty’s secretary smiling like an ice-bitch as she calls Hoffman “Mr. Bernstine,” F. Murray Abraham‘s street-clothes detective being told to handle a possible Watergate burglary because uniformed D.C. cops are “getting gas,” Coster’s evasive replies as Redford asks him questions at the Watergate burglar arraignment hearing, Alexander’s look of anger when her sister betrays her by asking Hoffman if he’d like some coffee, etc.
Bottom line: A big-issue movie without bits and scenes like these, scenes with real flavor and specificity, is in big trouble. That’s why I’d like to read Hannah’s script, so see if it has the goods.