“Pentagon Papers”, on France 3: Steven Spielberg narrates a crucial episode in the history of the American press


Never adapted for cinema and preceding the Watergate affair, “Pentagon Papers” is the name given to a classified defense file published at the turn of the 1970s by the New York Times then in the Washington Post , then a small newspaper dreaming of becoming big. The disclosure of thirty years of state lies and information on the involvement of the United States during the Vietnam War will further deteriorate public support for American interventionism.

Steven Spielberg recounts this crucial episode in the history of the American press first through the journey of the director of the Post , Katharine Graham, propelled to the head of the newspaper after the death of her father and the suicide of her husband. The only woman in a man’s world, Graham has internalized the suspicion of incompetence that is thrown at her and never travels without her horde of advisors, who decide for her.

As the Post prepares to go public, the opportunity to disclose the contents of the “Pentagon Papers” confronts her with a dilemma that could cost her newspaper its life.

Permanent affair

The virtuous speed of democracy and the ideal of transparency suddenly find themselves slowed down, suspended by Katharine Graham’s choice between asserting the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and her connections with the political world. From this moment, two speeds will merge, thanks to a parallel montage: that, slow, of the lifestyle of the director, whose days pass to the rhythm of social dinners and meetings with investors; that, feverish, of the editorial team headed by Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), who, while awaiting the boss’s decision, has little time to clean up the contents of the secret files.

All the emotional force of Pentagon Papers consists of making the journalistic film a setting for the splendid portrait of a woman that emerges from the background. Riveted to her, Spielberg’s direction gives the feeling of supporting her, of encouraging her. The precision of Meryl Streep’s acting manages to reflect the slightest inner movement of her character.

Press machines in fury, press room in turmoil: Spielberg respects to the letter the codes of the political-journalistic film, and his direction delights in capturing this permanent bustle. The numerous twists and turns which punctuate the story are secondary to a larger movement, which is both that of the feverish rhythm of the press and that of a staging which maintains a mimetic relationship with its subject: this euphoric movement, it is that of democracy.

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