Hannah Parker reviews the film about one of the biggest Government cover-ups to be unearthed yet…
Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, a government cover-up – basically everything you need for a winning film, and clearly the more prestigious area of the film industry agree, with it gaining two Oscar Nominations. It follows in the footsteps of Spotlight (2015), with the story set mostly in a newsroom, as journalists hunt down the story of the decade. But, can it follow Spotlight in winning the Best Picture Academy Award 2018?
The film starts at the Vietnam War for a brief period. We then follow Daniel Ellsberg (played by Matthew Rhys), a United States military analyst stealing the Pentagon Papers and photocopying them, before giving them to The New York Times to be printed. In the grand scheme of things, he’s essentially the hero of the story. He risked his life to get these papers, and made sure they got into the right hands so that news outlets could report the stories correctly. He did it for the people, and perhaps a little for glory, but mostly for the people. He felt they deserved to know these detrimental secrets that surrounded the war – such as rigged elections, law-breaking, and the big stinger; they knew they couldn’t win, but kept sending soldiers out to die anyway. Why? To stop America feeling humiliated, of course.
“they knew they couldn’t win, but kept sending soldiers out to die anyway. Why? To stop America feeling humiliated of course”
Although The New York Times and Washington Post – and all other news outlets that got hold of the papers – were at risk themselves by printing these stories, they did it for the paper. They did it for their own name. The right for the people to be in the know was perhaps a factor, but it certainly wasn’t their main priority.
That’s where we come onto Tom Hanks’s character, Ben Bradlee. He was your typical middle-aged white newspaper editor. He was bolchie, he had no boundaries, and he’d do anything to get the best scoop. Sure, there were redeeming qualities. He knew what journalism was really about – telling the news no matter what the consequences. He also seemed to value and appreciate his staff (most of the time). But as far as Hanks roles go, this wasn’t one of his best.
Meryl Streep played the other main character of the film, Katharine Graham – the publisher of the Washington Post. It started off typically frustrating for any woman watching. Every time she was in a room full of middle-aged white cis men, they talked over her, underestimated her and gave her no respect, which instantly has you rooting for her. But then you see that she’s a privileged woman who spends her leisurely time surrounded by corrupt people. Streep’s character does win you back round when she proves she in fact does have a whole load of courage and strength, and you have more respect for her when she’s tasked with making the biggest decision of any character in the film. She becomes a woman to admire, but it has to be said it takes a while for her to get there.
The white-washing in the film is something that can’t be ignored. It’s nothing new, and the film production team will probably say it’s “authentic of the time”. Sure, more white people will likely have been working for The New York Times and Washington Post than people of colour, but this is based on real life – ‘based’ being the optimum word. History is simply no excuse. People of colour have worked in and contributed to every industry, and the acknowledgement of people of colour by using them as extras shows the film is willing to admit they were there, but not willing to give them main roles. There’s literally no reason not to cast just one person of colour to play one of the more prominent characters.
The film was a slow starter, but it did gain traction in the second half. Important points were made that will stick in your head, such as the media cosying up with politicians so they can both attend the same parties. It also does have the ever-so-important and relevant storyline of a huge Government cover-up being leaked that eventually caused President Richard Nixon to resign. You leave wondering just what cover-up will be coming out next, especially with the biggest arse hole of all currently sitting in the White House.
But the real let-down of this film is the fact that the angle was from the Washington Post. It worked for Spotlight because it truly was the journalists who uncovered the Catholic Church sex scandal. They were the true heroes if you like. But that wasn’t the case here. For starters, the Washington Post wasn’t the first newspaper to report on it, so ideally it would have made more sense to follow the story from The New York Times. But honestly, why the film didn’t follow Daniel Ellsberg all the way through is astonishing. He’s an activist who risked his life to get these secrets out. He went into hiding and did everything he could to make sure people learned the truth. He was the true hero, and he should’ve been celebrated. His story is, quite frankly, more interesting than a newspaper printing a story that was given to them by someone else who did all the hard work.
Overall, the film is well-done. The first half is slow but the second half does grip you. It’s well acted, as you’d expect. And it’s a story that is always going to work when transferred to the big screen. But it simply isn’t good enough. It doesn’t do the true heroes of this story justice. It turns a monumental story of the 70’s into a movie about newspapers. And the blatent white-washing is quite frankly becoming tiresome.
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