THE POST (12A) ****

Dir: Steven Spielberg
With: Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Bob Odenkirk
Runtime: 116 minutes

GIVEN the number of films made with the press as hero, you might think that inside every Hollywood director was a frustrated scribbler. From Citizen Kane to the double Oscar-winning Spotlight, cinema has rushed headlong into print, the whiff of romance in its nostrils. Now it is the turn of Steven Spielberg to follow suit with The Post, the true story of how newspapers called a government to account for lying about a war. 
When the film opens in 1971 the Washington Post is on the back foot and its rival, The New York Times, is in the ascendant. Having long fought to cast off the tag of being just a local paper, Post publisher Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep), editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and their staff can do little but sit back and watch as the Times grabs national and international attention with a story about a secret Pentagon study on Vietnam.
When one of his reporters, Ben Bagdikian (Better Call Saul’s Bob Odenkirk, excellent) gets hold of a large cache of what became known as the Pentagon Papers, Bradlee is determined not to be scooped again. Revealing in detail how successive administrations, from Truman to Johnson, misled the American public about US involvement in Vietnam, and knew the war to be unwinnable, Bradlee cannot wait to start running stories. 
But there’s a snag, or rather two. Graham is about to sell shares in her family-owned paper to raise cash for investment. Any controversy could scare off the banks, and without their money the paper would be in trouble. 
More pressingly, the Nixon administration has placed an injunction on the Times for publishing classified material. Should the Post breach that court order, Graham and Bradlee could go to jail and the paper would be fined. The pressure is on Graham to make a decision.
Thus Spielberg sets up his tale as an old-fashioned race against the clock. He whips up the excitement of a newsroom roaring into action, people hurrying to and fro, hitting the phones, executives in sweaty editorial meetings. At one point, Bradlee pauses from tearing around like a commander on a battlefield to say gleefully to his secretary, “My God, the fun.” 
With a screenplay by Josh Singer (Spotlight, The West Wing) and Liz Hannah, Spielberg keeps the picture rattling along. His attention to period detail is immaculate. When not in the newsroom his cameras are fixed on the old printing presses as the story is put on the page. The man is clearly and hopelessly in love with the trade as it was, and it would be an odd newspaper man or woman watching this who did not feel their heart, too, skip a beat. 
We’re firmly back in the territory of pictures getting mushy about the press, and the dialogue becomes increasingly po-faced as Graham, Bradlee and others debate the necessity of speaking truth to power. The message to Trump-era media could not be clearer. All of which might rouse liberal hearts, but it also runs the risk of boring other folk to death. Indeed, The Post could have ended up as so much squishy nostalgia and warm word swapping if not for the clever decision to zero in on Graham’s pivotal part in proceedings. 
Ultimately, The Post is a great and timely picture about Graham and a so-so one about a story covered elsewhere, and one, to boot, that would soon be overshadowed by Watergate. Courtesy of Streep, we see Graham change from a widow initially adrift in a man’s world, up against an all-male board only too keen to tell her what to do, to a woman and executive in her own right. One 
who can, and will, take the tough decisions. 
It is this transformation that gives the picture relevance and heart. Hanks is marvellous as Bradlee, all guts and glory, but it is Streep who, without fuss and with grace, steals the show. There is one terrific, typically Spielbergian scene where Graham is leaving a courthouse. The men are at the top of the stairs, holding forth to the press, while she makes her way quietly down the steps, job done. One by one the women in the crowd turn to look at her in recognition. Yes, it is imposing the politics of today on the past, but it works. 
Stop press: woman carries picture and wins the day. Print it. 

Coco (PG) *****
Dir: Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina
Voices: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal
Runtime: 105 minutes

A STORY about dead relatives wouldn’t be everyone’s idea of a haud-me-back family movie. But then tales of an old man losing his home (Up) and a restaurant with a pest problem (Ratatouille) didn’t hold out much promise either. Sometimes, you just have to go with the Pixar flow. Young Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) dreams of being a famous musician, but his family forbid it because a distant relative, a crooner, walked out on his wife and their daughter Coco. Just how far will Miguel go to get his way? Set around the Mexican festival of the Day of the Dead, Coco is a riot of colour peppered with great songs, gags and thrills. 

The Commuter (15) ***
Dir: Jaume Collet-Serra
With: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga
Runtime: 104 minutes

IN which Liam Neeson plays a gent of a certain age who is mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. Hang on, haven’t we been through this movie before? Yes, you could be forgiven for thinking Jaume Collet-Sera’s action thriller is Taken 4, but it is an altogether twistier, i.e. more bonkers still, affair. This time, Neeson is Michael MacCauley, an ex-cop who has just lost his new job in insurance. On the train home, he is made an offer the financially desperate would think twice about refusing and duly succumbs, only to unleash a heap of trouble. Preposterous, but Collet-Serra keeps the action going at a terrific lick and if you like to see Mr Neeson, 65, do his “geriaction” thing, get on board.