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Spielberg, Hanks & Streep’s Pentagon Papers Pic A Contender In Next Oscar Race

Deadline logo Deadline 3/11/2017 Mike Fleming Jr
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EXCLUSIVE: It would be hard to come up with a movie following a faster track than The PostSteven Spielberg only said yes this past Monday to direct Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep in the Fox/Amblin co-production and they’ve all been clearing their schedules to start production in late May. Deals are still being finalized, but that means the film will be ready for release to qualify for this coming Oscar season.

The drama focuses on the Washington Post’s role in exposing the Pentagon Papers in 1971, and how the Post’s editor Ben Bradlee (Hanks) and publisher Kay Graham (Streep) joined the New York Times in challenging the federal government over their right to publish them. The film is based on the Liz Hannah script, with Amy Pascal, Spielberg, and Kristie Macosko Krieger (Bridge Of Spies) producing. Rachel O’Connor will be executive producer along with Star Thrower Entertainment’s Tim and Trevor White, and Adam Somner.

This certainly perks up next Oscar season where buzz so far has centered on such films as Kathryn Bigelow’s untitled film about the Detroit riots of 1967, Paul Thomas Anderson’s untitled pic with Daniel Day Lewis, Adam McKay’s Dick Cheney film, Christopher Nolan’s WWII pic Dunkirk, and Alexander Payne’s Downsizing. The Post immediately joins that list.

It is the second Oscar bait picture to focus on the storied Washington Post editor Bradlee, after All The President’s Men. While that film got upset in the Best Picture category by Rocky (as did nominees Network and Taxi Driver), Jason Robards did win Best Supporting Actor for playing Bradlee. His son, Ben Bradlee Jr, was part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team of Boston Globe reporters whose expose of pedophile priests and the church cover up in Boston formed the basis for Best Picture winner Spotlight. John Slattery played Bradlee Jr.

To make the late May start date, Spielberg has pushed back The Kidnapping Of Edgardo Mortara, the film that seemed likely to be his next directing assignment. While Spielberg has Mark Rylance and Oscar Isaac poised to star in that film, he has been scouring for the right youth to play the title character. Spielberg is meticulous in finding the right kid actor, as demonstrated by his choice of Drew Barrymore in E.T., and Christian Bale in Empire Of The Sun. Spielberg will prep The Post while he works through post-production on Ready Player One, which has completed production but isn’t slated to open until March 30, 2018 through Warner Bros.

Fox will release The Post domestically, while Amblin has international through its output deals with Universal, eOne, Reliance and others. Is having a logistically complex VFX film in post while he shoots another movie opening in the same year too much for Spielberg? Hardly. He did a version of that in 1993, shooting Schindler’s List while readying Jurassic Park for release that summer. Jurassic grossed north of $1 billion and launched a still vibrant franchise. Schindler’s List collected Best Picture and Best Director among seven Oscars.

The acceleration of The Post also means that Hanks will push back the start of Greyhound, the WWII thriller he scripted and will star in for director Aaron Schneider. Sony made a world rights deal on the FilmNation-financed picture which set world rights with Sony Pictures last month.

The Post reunites Spielberg with his longtime DreamWorks partner, Fox chairman/CEO Stacey Snider, giving the new chief a plum movie title early in her run as studio chief. This is the fifth pairing of Spielberg with Hanks, who starred for the helmer in Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me If You Can, The Terminal and Bridge Of Spies. He has also worked with Streep before, or at least got the benefit of her distinctive voice, as she vocalized the blue fairy in A.I. She is also narrating the Netflix WWII documentary Five Came Back, which Spielberg is exec producing and for which he’s one of the interview subjects. The docu series is based on the Mark Harris book that focused on directors John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens, who served their country by filming propaganda movies to help the war effort, and made their best films upon returning.

Set during turbulent times, “The Post” details the complex and often combative relationship between the Washington Post’s first female publisher, Graham, and its driven editor, Bradlee. After the White House stopped the New York Times’ initial reporting of the explosive Pentagon Papers, Graham and Bradlee fight to release the remainder of the leaked government documents. This was no easy decision, defying the White House amidst accusations of treason and the possibility of the destruction of their newspaper. Their fateful position sends them and the New York Times to the Supreme Court in what becomes a landmark case in journalism and the freedom of speech. The Pentagon Papers was a classified study about the Vietnam War commissioned by the Defense Department which revealed the futility and escalation of what was looking like an unwinnable war. The unreported facts included a secret dramatic escalation of troops and bombings, and its contents ran counter to what the Nixon administration was telling the American public.

Associated Press

The leaker was military analyst Daniel Ellsberg, a pro-war advocate when he started working on the study at the RAND Corporation. His conviction transformed during his work on the classified report and he came to believe the research should be exposed to inform future policy. When the White House chose to keep the info classified, Ellsberg leaked it to the New York Times; the newspaper’s scathing first installment charged the Johnson administration had systematically lied to the public and to Congress about Vietnam. Once Nixon’s Attorney General John Mitchell got a federal court injunction forcing the Times to cease after three installments, it was up to Bradlee and Graham to decide whether to take the baton and deal the next batch of information after Ellsberg gave the 47-volume study to Bradlee. The Boston Globe later published more of it, and Alaska U.S. Senator Mike Gravel read highlights aloud in a Senate subcommittee hearing.

After the New York Times and Washington Post prevailed in the Supreme Court challenge on First Amendment grounds, the Nixon Administration could no longer stop the contents of the report from being made public. The Supreme Court justices ruled 6-3 that the government failed to prove a harm to national security and that publication was justified by the First Amendment.

Ellsberg was arrested and charged with conspiracy, espionage and theft of government property. While Ellsberg said he was willing to go to jail to stop an unjust war, charges against him were eventually dropped when the Watergate scandal revealed that staffers at the Nixon White House were involved in unlawful efforts to discredit him by burglarizing the office of his psychiatrist.

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