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Tag Archive: Jesse Plemons


Review by C.J. Bunce

When the worst of us does its best to silence the rest of us, you get a story like 1971’s Pentagon Papers bombshell.  When a voluminous, decades-in-the-making, confidential government report that demonstrated unconstitutional behavior by a succession of presidents from Truman through Johnson is leaked to the press, The New York Times first reported on it, and the Nixon administration sought and was granted an injunction preventing the Times from publishing further articles on the subject.  Director Steven Spielberg focuses his new expertly crafted biopic The Post on The Washington Post as it decided whether to publish excerpts of the Pentagon Papers in the face of the Times injunction, primarily through the eyes of newspaper owner Katherine Graham, played by Meryl Streep, and managing editor Ben Bradlee, played by Tom Hanks. For the average moviegoer, Spielberg takes a rather mundane footnote in American history and makes it completely engaging and entertaining.  Carefully re-creating the early 1970s more than 45 years later with everything from the annoying mishandling of coins as you tried to make a payphone call, to the rotary phones we all used, to the weekly ritual of the family newspaper strewn across the living room, to costume designer Ann Roth’s hand-sewn vintage wardrobe re-creations, eyeglasses, jewelry, and hairdos of the era, to old technology and random items on shelves (that might prompt you to think it’s time to get a new iced tea pitcher), to the thankfully bygone days of women sitting in one room at a party and the men in another, to board rooms completely devoid of women (although today there is still rarely more than one or two), Spielberg makes the best use of the film medium, sharing a timely and important story for a new generation of moviegoers.

Filmed in the same 1970s noir style as Alan J. Pakula’s All the President’s Men (and using a newsroom set that is almost as accurate as that film’s 1975 California movie set version of the real thing), The Post might as well be a prequel.  It’s almost as good, lacking some of the more heart-pounding, real-life thrills of Watergate, like the mysterious informant Deep Throat, the uncertainty of whether someone in the government was going to think The Washington Post’s press coverage was worth killing over, and the perceived nature of the stakes (the executive branch vs. the Fourth Estate).  To his credit Spielberg had the more difficult task of re-creating an era and a newsroom in 2017, when Redford was filming his movie only three years after the events took place (and Spielberg is also certain to illustrate the stakes to both the players and the nation of this earlier event).  From the opening scene Spielberg traverses familiar territory, opening with an embedded government wonk in a warzone in Vietnam, as believable as his earliest team-up with Hanks, in Saving Private Ryan.  Seamlessly composer John Williams rejoins his long partnership with Spielberg in this scene, offering one of his best scores in years, alternating within the film an intensity that rivals his Raider of the Lost Ark compositions with the contemplative import of the moment realized in his Schindler’s List soundtrack.

Yesterday is today, as scene after scene attests to the same corporate deal making, the same roadshow investors, the same IPO efforts, the same boardroom antics, the same misogyny, the same shuffling of blame, and the same indifference to the public good permeates the nation and the news.   Convincingly selling us on the gravity of the story is the best ensemble cast put together in the past year.  Streep plays a surprisingly layered Katherine Graham, a socialite who would become the first woman Fortune 500 CEO and first woman to helm a major newspaper, best known for her role in the Pentagon Papers and Watergate.  Streep never ceases to amaze as she creates yet another character as believable and authentic as any of her past award-winning performances.  The Tom Hanks that won best actor Oscars for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump is also back, playing the strident editor Bradlee for all it’s worth, complete with the editor’s accent, brusque language and bravado, equal to Jason Robards’ Oscar-winning take on the same man in All the President’s Men.  The rest of the cast is a virtual Who’s Who of the current top genre actor scene.

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Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.  And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell.

— United States Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, NY Times v United States

The Post is the next in a prestigious line of the drama sub-genre of motion pictures focusing on journalism, a group featuring great films like Citizen Kane, Meet John Doe, The China Syndrome, Call Northside 777, and Zodiac.  The Post could be seen as a sequel of sorts to another film classic from this group, the Academy Award-winning 1976 film All the President’s Men.  That film, which told the story of The Washington Post coverage of the break-in at the Watergate Hotel that led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation, co-starred Jason Robards as executive editor Ben Bradlee.  The Washington Post is again front and center in The Post, this time with Tom Hanks as Bradlee and Meryl Streep as publisher Katherine Graham (who was an active player in the events in All the President’s Men, but the character did not appear in the film).

With director Steven Spielberg, Streep, and Hanks attached to the film, it’s likely The Post will be a big Oscar contender next March.  The Post tells the story of The Washington Post’s decision to disclose The Pentagon Papers over the course of a few weeks in June 1971, an extensive government study that would show that the government had hidden from the public and media the true extent of U.S. activity in the Vietnam War.  The decision of the Supreme Court would stifle the media for 15 days before finally providing some guidance on when the government may restrict the press from certain disclosures.

The film features plenty of familiar faces, including Alison Brie as Graham’s daughter Lally Weymouth, Carrie Coon as Meg Greenfield (Post editorial writer and confidante of Graham), David Cross as Post editor Philip Geyelin, Bruce Greenwood as Robert McNamara (President Johnson’s secretary of defense), Tracy Letts as Paul Ignatius (President Johnson’s assistant secretary of defense), Bob Odenkirk as Ben Bagdikian (the reporter for The Post at the center of the Pentagon Papers coverage), Michael Stuhlbarg as Post managing editor Eugene Patterson, and Zach Woods as Daniel Ellsberg, the military analyst who disclosed the Pentagon Papers and was charged with espionage.

Check out this trailer for The Post:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Once again Tom Cruise proves he can’t make a bad action movie.  This Friday his latest, American Made, opens in theaters nationwide.  It is absolutely a Tom Cruise movie for anyone that loves Tom Cruise movies, and everyone else will find a 1980s flashback blast waiting for them.  Cruise has had starring or recognizable roles in 42 movies.  As with star actors like John Wayne and Arnold Schwarzenegger, many expect to see Cruise play Cruise in every new film, but that’s not quite what happens.  Like many actors you can bundle their performances into categories, although it’s easy to find some overlap.  There are Cruise’s cocky maverick hotshots in Jack Reacher, Collateral, Mission: Impossible, Days of Thunder, Rain Man, Cocktail, The Color of Money, and The Outsiders.  That’s a bit different Cruise than the renegades of Top Gun, Oblivion, Valkyrie, Minority Report, Born on the Fourth of July, and The Last Samurai But that’s not the Cruise you’ll find in American Made.  This is Cruise as flawed, cavalier everyman–and a bit of a dope–the kind of roles you could see Gary Cooper or Kevin Costner cast in.  Early buzz suggests this new role is Cruise as cocky maverick hotshot, but that’s only on the surface because he’s playing a pilot.  In American Made you’ll find the more casual but layered Cruise of War of the Worlds, Far and Away, Edge of Tomorrow, A Few Good Men, The Firm, and Jerry Maguire.  This is also the more likeable, more relatable Cruise persona.

Cruise’s character Barry Seal was a real person who fell into some crazy, impossibly outlandish situations as a pilot in the 1970s and 1980s.  This isn’t a true biography–the real events in Seal’s life are far different than as portrayed in the first half of the film, but the second half tracks much closer.  The Barry Seal of the film begins as a well-trained pilot that gets bored with the mundane.  He starts small, smuggling cigars from Cuba into the states while a TWA pilot.  Then a CIA agent named Schafer catches him and offers him a deal: Seal’s evasive techniques are perfect to take spy photos in Central America.  For Seal it beats boredom, and it’s a breeze for him, despite the frequent heavy gunfire.  Seal gets in deep but never really seems to understand how deep, because underneath what would appear to be your typical hotshot pilot is that bit of a dope.  He is so clueless he can’t fathom that his wife, played by Sarah Wright Olsen (Parks and Recreation, Enchanted, 7th Heaven), won’t respond affirmatively that she trusts him when he gives her a smile and asks “do you trust me?”  Twice.  He’s actually taken aback, despite the impossible situation he drags his wife into (like Jerry Maguire trying to convince his new girlfriend that all isn’t as bad as it seems).  And his new pal list includes Manuel Noriega.

CIA agent Schafer (an amalgam of agents the real-life Seal had worked with) is played by Domhnall Gleeson (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Ex Machina, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows).  Gleeson is a ringer for Timothy Busfield in Field of Dreams or Sneakers and has great chemistry with Cruise–and he’s surprisingly strong directing the much older Cruise’s actions in scene after scene despite his youth.  Together Schafer and Seal build-up some CIA successes, but Seal has a growing family and needs some extra money on the side–and Schafer isn’t providing more money–so the CIA success is coupled with Seal’s casual assistance in the rise of the Medellin Cartel as he begins smuggling cocaine.  The DEA learns about it and Seal bounces back and forth, playing for both sides, ultimately smuggling weapons for the White House and Ollie North in what became the Iran-Contra scandal.  And then the FBI gets involved.  And all the while Seal literally can’t figure out what to do with all his proceeds from his smuggling, burying some piles of cash in the yard, his wife stuffing shoe boxes full of money in closets, after buying up much of the small town they arrive at in Arkansas.

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