Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
Timing is everything, and Steven Spielberg’s The Post could not have come out at a more ideal time. While there are those who would attack the Washington Post and other news organizations with pejorative terms like “fake news,” the film dramatizes why our country needs a free and unfettered press. While the New York Times proclaims on its front page “All the news that’s fit to print,” the Washington Post doesn’t pull punches with its declaration that “Democracy dies in darkness.”
Risking everything to publish stories based on the purloined Pentagon Papers – the publisher, editors, and reporters could have been charged and jailed – the Washington Post claimed it’s rightful place as a national newspaper. Katharine Graham, who became publisher after her husband, Philip, committed suicide, allowed the paper to print, even though her board of directors warned that she could jeopardize the paper’s financial future. In making the decision to go ahead, Graham finally asserts her authority and makes the paper truly her own.
Meryl Streep, Steven Spielberg, and Tom Hanks
Coming on the heels of The Vietnam War, Ken Burns’ exhaustive series for PBS, the film underscores that four presidents, from Truman through Johnson, continually misled the public about U.S. operations in Vietnam. In fact, while the government insisted that the war was being won, behind the scenes those in charge had declared the war unwinnable. President Nixon, who didn’t want to be humiliated losing a war, kept up the deception.
The film opens in 1969, in the jungles of Vietnam. The war is still raging, claiming both American and Vietnamese lives. Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), a former Marine working as a military analyst at the Rand Corporation, is sent to Vietnam as an observer and sees firsthand that things are not going well. While flying back to Washington on a government plane, Ellsberg is asked for his opinion by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood). If Ellsberg is surprised when McNamara agrees with his assessment, he’s even more surprised when McNamara faces the press after the flight and delivers an upbeat assessment that the war is being won.
Ellsburg, already disillusioned, makes the decision to photocopy 7,000 pages of confidential documents that reveal what the government has been hiding for more than four decades about the war. After failing to generate any interest from the members of Congress, Ellsberg, in 1971, contacts Neil Sheehan, who had been covering the war for the New York Times. Sheehan and his editors recognized the importance of the papers immediately. A team was put together, and for three months they holed up in a hotel, poring over the papers and deciding how best to tell the story.
Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee
The absence of Sheehan’s byline for several months does not go unnoticed by Post editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks). Hanks plays Bradlee as the quintessential newspaper man and a fierce competitor. Even though the Times was recognized as the only truly national newspaper in the country, and one whose journalistic credentials far outweighed the Post’s, Bradlee is not about to play second fiddle. He gives an intern $40 with instructions to hop a train to New York and attempt to find out what Sheehan is working on. While the intern doesn’t learn the whole story, he does see a mock-up of the next day’s Times with practically the entire front page blocked out for Sheehan’s story. Bradlee knows the Times has something big and braces for the scoop.
Meanwhile, Katharine Graham is about to face a group of bankers, a first step in her quest to take the paper public to raise much needed cash. Meryl Streep does what she does best: transforming herself into the character, in this case a middle-aged woman plagued with self doubt who is about to take her place on the national stage. Although Graham has rehearsed with Fritz Beebe (Tracy Letts), the Post’s chairman, she’s tongue-tied when before the bankers. Streep manages to capture Graham’s insecurities in subtle ways, with facial expressions and hand gestures. During the meeting, she actually seems to shrink in size. Despite her lackluster presentation, the offering succeeds and the company will have the cash it needs to go forward.
Tom Hanks (Ben Bradlee), David Cross (Howard Simons), John Rue (Gene Patterson), Bob Odenkirk (Ben Bagdikian), Jessie Mueller (Judith Martin), and Philip Casnoff (Chalmers Roberts)
On June 13, 1971, Bradlee’s fears are realized when the Times comes out with its first story about the Pentagon Papers, making the Post’s front page feature of Tricia Nixon’s wedding seem trivial. Three days later, however, the Nixon administration, citing national security, asks a federal court for an injunction preventing the Times from publishing any further stories. Although the injunction is granted, other newspapers jump in, trying to gain access to the documents.
One of the Post’s writers, Ben Bagdikian (a terrific Bob Odenkirk), has a hunch the papers came from Ellsberg, whom he once worked with at the Rand Corporation. Ellsberg, hiding out in a Boston motel, agrees to give the papers to Bagdikian. The reporter flies back to D.C., and the team gathers at Bradlee’s Georgetown home for some heavy reading.
The Times had more than three months to digest the papers. The Post’s team has far less time. The Herculean effort results in a story, but elation is short-lived when one of the newspaper’s attorneys says that the injunction could be a big problem if the Post’s source was also the Times’ source. If the paper defies the injunction and publishes, the risk would be great. Besides possible jail time for Graham, Bradlee, and others, board member Arthur Parsons (Bradley Whitford), warns that the newspaper’s recent public offering could be in danger. This is the turning point for Kay Graham, and Streep handles this scene beautifully, allowing us first to see her hesitation, but then her determination to do the right thing.
Howard Simons (David Cross), Frederick “Fritz” Beebe (Tracy Letts), Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), Arthur Parsons (Bradley Whitford), Chalmers Roberts (Philip Casnoff), Paul Ignatius (Brent Langdon), Meg Greenfield (Carrie Coon, seated).
The Post’s first story runs on June 18. Unlike in the Times’ case, the Justice Department’s request for an injunction is turned down by a federal judge in D.C. Before the case reaches the U.S. Supreme Court, several other newspapers, including the Boston Globe and the Chicago Sun-Times, also publish stories. In a 6-3 decision on June 30, the court reverses the injunction. In the decision, Justice Hugo Black writes: “In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors.”
Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham
Graham is transformed by the experience. Not only has she firmly grasped the reins as the newspaper’s publisher, but she understands that she cannot allow her responsibility to be affected by the personal friendships she once enjoyed with those in power. (After reading the Pentagon Papers, she confronts McNamara about his deception regarding the war, reminding him that her son is still in Vietnam fighting.)
Graham and Bradlee are now a team. While Graham expresses the hope that the battle is now behind them, we know that an even greater challenge is ahead, one that will bring down a president.
Photo Credit: Niko Tavernise, courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox
With the upcoming released biopic, The Post, starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep already garnering Oscar buzz, it seems like a good time to consider other times movies have brought the news industry into the spotlight. At a time when the future of newspapers and journalism seems so uncertain the following films are especially relevant.
All The President’s Men (1976) This classic political thriller tells the now legendary story of how Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) investigation and reporting of an a minor break-in at the Watergate led to a tangled web that brought down the Nixon presidency. (It also ensured that all future scandals would have the title ‘gate’ attached to their name.) Directed by Alan Pakula (Klute, The Parallax View) and with a screenplay by William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Princess Bride) it was an instant commercial and critical success. It would garner eight Academy Award nominations and four awards including Best Screenplay for Goldman and Best Supporting Actor for Jason Robards. It currently holds a fresh rating of 93% on the Tomatometer.
Fletch (1985) Los Angeles Times reporter and master of disguise Irwin Fletcher (Chevy Chase in what he would call his favorite roll) is posing as a junkie while researching an expose on drug trafficking. A millionaire approaches him and claiming to be terminally ill hires Fletch to kill him. When further investigation reveals the millionaire to be in perfect health, Fletch realizes he’s on to a potentially much bigger story. To get at it, will take all his considerable wits. The movie was a critical and commercial hit spawning a sequel and has gone on to garner a cult following as well.
The Paper(1994) Ron Howard (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind) directed this American comedy-drama taking place over 24 hectic hours in the life of Henry Hackett (Michael Keaton) Metro editor for the New York Sun, a fictional tabloid. The Sun is experiencing cash flow problems and is making drastic cuts. Meanwhile Henry’s wife, Martha (Marisa Tomei), is expecting their first child and aggravated with his workaholism. She wants him to take a job at the New York Sentinel (a thinly disguised version of the New York Times). Meanwhile a sensational double homicide of two white businessman and subsequent arrest of two African American teenagers has Harry’s news sense tingling. The all star cast also includes Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Randy Quaid, and Jason Robards (again!). It currently holds an 88% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes with critics praising the film for capturing the frenetic high energy environment of actual newsrooms.
State of Play (2009) This taut political thriller was an adaption of a six-part BBC series by the same name. Russell Crowe turns in a pitch perfect performance as investigative reporter Cal McAffrey who probes the suspicious death of Congressman Stephen Collins’ (Ben Affleck) mistress. Matters are further complicated by the fact that McAffrey and Collins were once old friends and that Cal had an affair with Stephen’s wife Anne (Robin Wright). Cal convinces his wary, long suffering editor Cameron (the always fabulous Helen Mirren) to let him dig deeper into the matter with the help of young reporter and blogger Della (Rachel McAdams at her most charming). Needless to say twists and turns abound in an intricate plot of layered conspiracy. State of Play garnered generally favorable reviews and Crowe won the Best Actor award from the Australia Film Institute.
Spotlight (2015) This searing biographical crime drama follows how The Boston Globe’s ‘Spotlight’ team uncovered a pattern of widespread systemic sexual abuse by priests in the Boston area, that kicked off an international scandal. Starring Michael Keaton (again!), Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams (again!), Stanley Tucci, and Liev Schreiber it’s an instant masterpiece demonstrating how a culture of complicity and silence enabled generations of abuse. It was nominated for six Academy Awards and won Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture. (Read our earlier review.)
April Fool’s Day is upon us where we all get free reign to play pranks on one another and lie with impunity. In the spirit of this holiday, here are five note-worthy films celebrating hoaxsters, tricksters, and plain old flim-flam men. Enjoy! (But watch your wallet.)
The Music Man (1962) Based on the Broadway musical of the same name, Robert Preston’s performance of slick tongued salesman Harold Hill and how he transforms and is transformed in turn by River City, Iowa is one of the most iconic of all time. Also starring Buddy Hackett, Shirley Jones, and Paul Ford it was one of the highest grossing films of the year. It won the Academy Award for Best Musical Score and was nominated for five more including Best Picture. It later holds up as one of the best and most beloved movie musicals of all time and indeed ‘Harold Hill’ has now become cultural shorthand for swindlers everywhere!
The Sting (1973) Directed by the legendary George Roy Hill (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) and starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford as two professional grifter’s in the Depression era, who pull on a complicated confidence scam on a mob boss played by Robert Shaw. A box office smash, The Sting was nominated for 10 Oscar Awards and won seven including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay.
Six Degrees of Separation (1993) Directed by Frank Schepesi and adapted from the Pulitzer Prize nominated John Guare play of the same name and based on the true story of David Hampton. Fifth Avenue Socialite Ouisa Kittredge (Stockard Channing) and her husband Flan (Donald Sutherland) get taken in by slick young hustler Paul (Will Smith in his first major film debut) who convinces them that he’s the son of Sidney Poitier. Stockard Channing’s performance was nominated for both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award.
Catch Me If You Can (2002) Steven Spielburg directed this biographical crime film based on the life of Frank Abagnale who successfully impersonated a pilot, a doctor, a lawyer and made off with huge sums of cash-while he was still a teenager. Leonardo DiCaprio gives an astonishing performance as Frank, Christopher Walken plays his father Frank Sr., and Tom Hanks is Carl Hanratty, the FBI agent assigned to take him down. It was a financial and critical success with a 96% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes and Christopher Walken was nominated for an Academy Award.
The Hoax (2006) Directed by Lasse Halstrom (The Cider House Rules, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?) and starring Richard Gere as Clifford Irving. It tells the story of Irving’s elaborate hoax of writing and publishing the autobiography of Howard Hughes – without ever even speaking to Howard Hughes himself. Anchored by Gere’s performance the movie also sports an all star cast including Al Molina, Hope Davis, Marcia Gay Harden, and Stanley Tucci. Which helps explain why it made the Top 10 Films lists for both the Los Angeles Times and Newsweek.
Bertrand Zobrist is the anti-Bill Gates. Rather than use his billions to improve people’s health around the globe, Zobrist plans to unleash a plague to reduce the world’s population. Inferno, based on a Dan Brown novel, brings back Harvard professor, Robert Langdon, who must thwart Zobrist’s plot. But there’s a problem: Langdon (Tom Hanks) wakes up in a Florence hospital with no memory of how he got there. His physician, Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), tells him he sustained a head injury after being grazed by a bullet. Before she can explain further, an Italian police officer, Vayentha (Ana Ularu), shows up, shoots another doctor and begins shooting at Langdon. He and Sienna escape to her apartment where they try to figure out why someone wants Langdon dead.
Langdon (Tom Hanks) and Sienna (Felicity Jones) study the Map Of Hell.
The first clue is a small cylinder made out of bone that Langdon finds in his pocket. The object is actually a projector that contains one image: Botticelli’s Map of Hell based on Dante’s Inferno. The illustration has been tweaked, adding the words: “The truth can be glimpsed only through the eyes of death.” Once again Brown has fashioned a mystery that involves a scavenger hunt. For the next 107 minutes, Robert and Sienna will take us on a whirlwind tour of Florence’s artistic treasures as they seek to discover where Zobrist has hidden the virus.
Ignazio (Gábor Urmai) and Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) inspect Dante’s Death Mask.
“The eyes of death” turns out to be the death mask of Dante. Unfortunately, the mask is missing. Surveillance footage shows Langdon, along with his friend, Ignazio Busoni (Gábor Urmai), stealing the mask, even though Langdon has no memory of being the thief.
Zobrist (Ben Foster) presents his over population theory.
Zobrist (Ben Foster) committed suicide, but his followers have vowed to carry out his wishes. Besides Langdon, there are others out to find the virus, including officials from the World Health Organization and someone who hopes to sell the virus to the highest bidder. Langdon knows he met with someone in Cambridge to discuss Zobrist, but he can’t remember if it was his friend Elizabeth Sinskey (Sidse Babett Knudsen), or Omar Sy (Christoph Bouchard). Without knowing whom to trust, Langdon is forced to rely only on Sienna. They manage to keep two steps ahead of their pursuers, until they are separated and Langdon is apprehended. An unlikely ally comes to his aid and helps to fill in the blanks in Langdon’s memory.
Sinskey (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) analyze Dante’s text.
Brown’s books have never been hailed as literary masterpieces. (In one review, his prose was described as “dreadful.”) Ron Howard, who also directed the film adaptations of The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demon, understands that fans love Brown’s books not because of the language, but because the plots are a thrill ride. The film’s visual effects, recreating Langdon’s dreams of being caught up in Dante’s Inferno, are appropriately gruesome.
Langdon (Tom Hanks) and Sienna (Felicity Jones) make their way through St. Marks Square in Venice.
Those scenes of hell are offset by the visual beauty of Florence and Venice. Besides the aerial shots over these two glorious cities, we spend time on the ground, glimpsing Florence’s Boboli Gardens, the Palazzo Vecchio, and the Baptistry, while also enjoying a stroll around Venice’s Piazza San Marco and a boat ride down the Grand Canal. (You may want to book a trip on your iPhone as you leave the theater.)
Hanks is having a banner year playing heroes: Sully, the pilot responsible for “The Miracle on the Hudson,” and Langdon, a low key academic who keeps finding himself in dangerous situations. In Inferno, Hanks not only saves the planet, he manages to save the film, too.
Inferno opens nationwide October 28, 2016.
Photos by Jonathan Prime courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment. Top photo: Langdon (Tom Hanks) and Sienna (Felicity Jones) on the balcony of St. Marks Basilica.
“It’s been a long time that New York had news this good, especially with an airplane in it.”
We toss around the word “hero” a lot, but often that word describes ordinary people just doing their jobs with extraordinary results. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger is one such person. On January 15, 2009, Sully was piloting a US Airways plane out of LaGuardia Airport when a flock of Canada Geese struck the Airbus A320. With both engines gone, Sully realized there was no hope of landing at either LaGuardia or Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. He made the decision to land the plane in the Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 people on board.
Scenes of the water rescue dominated the airwaves and newspapers all over New York and, indeed, the world. The event was declared “The Miracle on the Hudson.” Sully was hailed a hero by the media and he and his team even appeared on The David Letterman Show. One New York tavern named a drink in his honor. “The Sully, Grey Goose with a splash of water,” the bartender tells him. It’s one lighthearted moment in Clint Eastwood’s taut, tense, and terrific film starring Tom Hanks as Sully.
While the public was celebrating a new hero, things were darker behind the scenes. (The film is based on Highest Duty by Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow.) The National Transportation Safety Board investigating the incident seemed determined to prove that Sully made the wrong decision. Facing the NTSB panel, Sully and his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart), are told that computer simulations prove they had enough time to make it back to LaGuardia. The second engine still had thrust and would have supported the plane for the time it took to land on the ground, they say. “Not possible,” Sully tells them. Leaving the meeting, Sully tells Skiles, “I’ve delivered a million passengers over 40 years but in the end I’m going to be judged on 208 seconds.”
Not only would such a ruling by the NTSB turn the tide on public opinion, but would effectively end Sully’s career and cancel his pension. Sully has to stay in New York until the NTSB completes its investigation. While he wades through a sea of journalists whenever he leaves his hotel, his wife, Lorraine (Laura Linney), is essentially a prisoner in her home, the media camped out on her front lawn.
Sully maintains an authoritative presence in public, but in private he suffers flashbacks and has trouble sleeping. (In interviews, Sullenberger revealed that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder for several weeks following the accident.) In the film, Sully’s nightmares find the plane crashing into buildings, exploding in flames, scenes that are sure to remind many of 9/11. Battling those sleepless nights, Sully takes to running, one evening finding himself across from the Intrepid Museum, staring at a fighter plane that he once piloted and reliving another moment when he had to bring down a disabled plane. (Sullenberger graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy, holds a post graduate degree from Purdue, and was once a member of the Air Force’s aircraft accident investigation board.)
Hanks turns in a fine performance as Sullenberger, demonstrating a steely resolve while making what many would consider a foolhardy decision to land a jet on water. But he also allows us to see Sully behind the scenes, uncomfortable basking in the media’s glare while also having his decision second-guessed by government officials who have never flown a plane. Co-pilot Skiles (a great supporting performance by Eckhardt), never wavers in his support of Sully, even when confronted by the NTSB panel. For that government group, Eastwood has gathered actors who do unlikeable very, very well. Mike O’Malley, Jamey Sheridan, and Anna Gunn as the NTSB investigators seem less willing to discover the truth and more eager to bring Sully down, whatever the cost.
While those confrontations are fascinating, the center of the film is, of course, the miracle itself. Eastwood has recreated the entire event with such realism that we can feel the terror the passengers felt when Sully ordered, “Brace for impact!” Soon after landing, the passengers find themselves standing on the plane’s wings or huddled in one of the inflated slides. And while Sully managed the impossible by landing the plane, those passengers might have perished in the Hudson’s frigid waters if first responders had not made it to the scene so quickly, taking the terrified survivors onto boats, rescuing two who fell into the water, and getting them needed medical care.
When the credits role, we see photos from the actual rescue. We also see a Sully himself in a short video greeting the survivors during a reunion, the reconstructed plane in the background. As splendid as Hanks is in the role, there’s nothing like seeing the hero himself embracing the people he saved with his experience and skill.
The Miracle on the Hudson remains one of New York City’s finest moments. During a time when we desperately need heroes, Sully reminds us that they walk among us.