Even Steven Spielberg can’t escape the allure of timely story. Just nine months after getting Liz Hannah’s spec script — and mere days after actually completing the final film — Spielberg’s fast-tracked Pentagon Papers drama “The Post” launched its first screening last night in New York City. The film was greeted with an extended standing ovation, one surely egged on by both admiration for the film and for the big stars on display at a post-screening panel, including Spielberg and his stars Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Bob Odenkirk, and Matthew Rhys.
The film follows Streep as Washington Post publisher Kay Graham and Hanks as editor Ben Bradlee, as the paper and its journalists attempt to declassify the so-called Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War. It’s an eerily timely story, one about the urgent need for good journalism, what happens when the government attempts to hide its misdeeds, and the ultimate value of truth. Spielberg couldn’t shake it.
All told, the film’s production process took just nine months, from Spielberg’s first introduction to Hannah’s script (thanks to producer Amy Pascal) to last night’s mid-November unofficial premiere.
“It just felt like this was going to be a movie that I was gonna want to make immediately,” said Spielberg. “This was like something that couldn’t wait for three years or two years. This was a story that I really felt we needed to tell today.”
Although Spielberg was still in the midst of completing his other new film, the Warner Bros. adaptation “Ready Player One,” when Pascal brought him the script, he found some wiggle room in between physical production and wrapping up special effects work. He soon set “Spotlight” screenwriter Josh Singer on a re-write and cast heavy hitters Hanks and Streep, on screen together for the first time (when asked why it’s taken so long for a team-up, Hanks joked about biffing “Mamma Mia!” audition, while Streep confessed to being beat out for a “Cast Away” part by a “basketball head”).
Streep, who recently championed the need for “a principled press” when accepting her Cecile B. DeMille Award at this year’s Golden Globes, said she “got ready quickly” for the part, beefing up on the biographies of both Bradlee and Graham in the process. Hanks, who actually knew Bradlee in real life and happened to meet Graham on what would be the last day of her life, was also eager to jump into the challenge. They all wanted to tell the stories of these people, and the story behind their work on bringing the truth of the Pentagon Papers to the American public.
As Spielberg noted of the newspaper world, “This was a profession that was about the truth and often the cost of compiling stories, and then having to physically go into the linotype room…where it was really a hands-on craft. We wanted to show [that] because we have such respect for all the news organizations, from the beginning of news, that is able to get this stuff out, disseminated…and get it to people’s houses.”
Just how timely is it? When asked about parallels between 1971 and the current political climate, Spielberg said, “The relevance is up to everybody to strike their own balance between the news today and the news then. But obviously, sometimes, bad things happen twice. History is certainly repeating itself.”
But that’s not to say that film doesn’t pack in plenty of entertainment value, and Hanks himself jokingly billed the affair as “rock-em-sock-em, two hours of grab-your-ass entertainment.”
The film’s supporting cast also includes Alison Brie, Carrie Coon, David Cross, Tracy Letts, Sarah Paulson, Jesse Plemons, Michael Stuhlbarg, Bradley Whitford, and Zach Woods. It is dedicated to the late Nora Ephron.
20th Century Fox will release “The Post” in theaters on December 22.
Additional reporting by David Ehrlich.