The Post ★★★★½

There’s topical, there’s timely, and then there’s “The Post,” which feels less like a historical thriller set in 1971 than it does an exhilarating caricature of the year 2017. While Steven Spielberg’s latest film rivetingly dramatizes the publication of the Pentagon Papers (and eloquently unpacks the consequences of their dissemination), “The Post” wears the Nixon era like a flimsy disguise that it wants you to see right through.

That’s not to take away from Ann Roth’s ratty and exquisite period costume design, or to detract from how immaculately set decorator Rena DeAngelo recreated the smokey thrum of the old Washington Post newsroom. It’s certainly not to diminish Meryl Streep’s fraught and powerfully grounded portrayal of the late publishing scion Katharine Graham — she hasn’t been this good since “Adaptation,” or maybe even “Death Becomes Her,” if ever.

On the contrary, it’s just to emphasize the extent to which “The Post” unambiguously uses the past to reinvigorate our resistance to the present — to stress that the film exists for no other reason. This is a movie that couldn’t be more relevant if it had been set last week, or tomorrow; it’s a movie by someone who desperately wanted to address the world’s current (and concurrent) crises, but knew that it would be foolish to attack the problem head-on.

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