domenica 25 febbraio 2018

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2017: Allison Janney in I, Tonya

Allison Janney received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as LaVona Golden in I, Tonya.

One of the reasons why I, Tonya is among my favorite movies of the year is its moral complexity and ambiguity: this is especially evident in its depiction of the two central characters that, both due to the writing and the brilliant performances from Margot Robbie and Sebastian Stan, evoke conflicting emotions in the viewer. Their actions are reprehensible, even despicable, and the movie never shies away from that, but they also realistic, three-dimensional human beings that you grow to understand even if you condemn their actions. Allison Janney's performance as Tonya Harding's abusive mother has been one of the most praised and awarded aspects of the movie, but I have to say right away I don't share the intense admiration most people feel towards her work: in a movie I admire for its ability to be thought-provoking and contemporarily objective and empathetic, Janney's LaVona is by far its most straightforward element. She's a character that captures your attention while watching the movie but not one that stays with you or that evoke a reflection regarding her motivations and feelings. It's a flashy performance but not an especially deep one and for all the impressively done showboating I was far more fascinated and captivated by Robbie's and Stan's far richer performances. In the context of the movie, Janney's performance works: she is an effective villain of sorts, she's an entertaining presence on screen and certainly doesn't detract from the overall experience. But looking closely at her work it's a rather thin performance and I think that Janney herself sometimes missed the potential complexity that the script offered her.

In the early scenes of the movie, there is no denying that Janney is a force to be reckoned with: she doesn't hold back on LaVona's abrasive, unloving behavior and she makes her the overbearing presence she is supposed to be - it's a performance that dares you not to pay attention. But at the same time I never felt she truly captured the horror of LaVona's abuse, remaining too often on a purely surface-level in her performance - Sebastain Stan managed to give an entertaining performance while still effectively depicting the terrifying tragedy of his abusive behavior towards Tonya, something that I don't think Janney managed to do. In fact, it's through Margot Robbie's portrayal of Tonya's trauma that we feel the real severity of the impact of LaVona's behavior because Janney's performance feels too often one-note and even a little shallow. She never truly becomes a caricature, but at times she comes dangerously close. She is appropriately grotesque in the part but she rarely feels truly real. I do think there are moments of greatness in her performance: the scene in which she tells Tonya "You fuck dumb, you don't marry dumb" at her wedding is an incredibly hard-hitting moment and Janney is terrific in her delivery of LaVona's fatal blow to Tonya. And she is excellent in the scene in which she has a fight with Tonya and ends up throwing a knife at her: Janney is fantastic at showing that, for once, LaVona is stunned by her own behavior and for a moment seems to feel genuine remorse for her action. It's my favorite scene of her performance: in it, she manages to balance the louder qualities of the character while bringing a hint of depth to it. But her whole performance is too uneven to truly excel as a whole - for every moment in which she lets you see the damaged humanity of her character, there is one in which she feels paper-thin and one-dimensional.

In the second half of the movie, Janney gets progressively less screen-time, having only a handful scenes devoted to her character, and again I found her performance to be rather inconsistent, with moments of greatness intertwined with others that are a bit underwhelming. Her confrontation at the diner with Tonya is perhaps one of her most celebrated scenes of the movie, but to be perfectly honest I found her to be completely overshadowed by Margot Robbie's heartbreaking portrayal of her character's plight. LaVona's "I made you a champion" speech could have been an opportunity for Janney to give more insight into LaVona's mind but I felt it was a bit of a missed opportunity - she is a one-note of aggressiveness, and though a well played one I felt there was room for more. And I thought the few scenes focusing on her reactionary shots at the diner while watching Tonya skates were a bit of a mixed bag: the "I want to see her face" is perhaps the most interesting scene of her performance and Janney is absolutely brilliant in it, but other moments felt more vague than subtle - the camera focuses on her face but there's not much subtext to be found in her reactions. But I thought she was great in her final scene with Robbie, delivering an uncomprominsingly brutal portrayal of LaVona's selfishness and opportunism - Janney is effective in her portrayal of LaVona's feigned sympathy until gradually revealing that the sleazy nature has not changed. 

In regards to the interview scenes, Allison Janney is very entertaining, even hilarious at times, but those scenes don't really add to the character as much as Stan's and Robbie's interview scenes add to Jeff and Tonya. The two bring depth and subtle irony to those moments, while LaVona's interview never really amount to anything more than entertaining, except for a very small moment in which Janney seems to suggest that LaVona is genuinely sad about the fact that Tonya cut ties with her. 

I think Allison Janney is an absolutely superb actress and she's a presence I always enjoy watching on-screen. She's probably going to win the Oscar next week, and I'm fine with it, because she is an excellent actress who deserves recognition. But in my opinion her performance in I, Tonya is not something award-worthy: it's an enjoyable performance with sparse moments of greatness, but overall it's a thin portrayal in a movie that is anything but. It's a performance that works perfectly well in the context of the movie, but that is a little lacking itself.


giovedì 22 febbraio 2018

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2017: Octavia Spencer in The Shape of Water

Octavia Spencer received her third Oscar nomination for her performance as Zelda Delilah Fuller in The Shape of Water.

The three roles that garnered Octavia Spencer three Oscar nominations are actually quite similar to each other. It would be unfair to say, as some do, that she got three nominations for playing the same character - her character as Dorothy Vaughan in Hidden Figures is far subtler than the other two while her Oscar-winning role as Minnie Jackson in The Help has a richer, more layered characterization and a larger screen-time - but there is no denying that the three roles have a lot in common, from the setting of the three movies (all set in the 1950s/the beginning of the 1960s) to the nature of the role. Yet, there isn't a single performance that feels like a lesser reprisal of a previous one: Spencer brings energy, life and commitment to all of her performances, subtly and intelligently finding the small nuances that allow all three characters to trascend the stereotype of the sassy black friend. With her impeccable comedic timing, an incredibly expressive face and a scene-stealing screen-presence, Spencer manages to elevate characters that on paper could have been stereotypes. This is especially true for Zelda who, like many of the supporting characters of The Shape of Water, could have been a mere stereotype writing-wise - the reason she does not is Guillermo Del Toro's expert, empathetic direction and Spencer's committed performance. 

To be perfectly honest, Zelda is probably the most limited out of the main characters of the film: Michael Shannon, as the movie's villain, has quite a few scene devoted to him to add some depth and dimension to Strickland, while Richard Jenkins, whose character has a similar function to Spencer's, gets his own sidestory and gets a huge amount of screen-time. Zelda does not have a lot of scenes of her own and for most of the movie she serves as a comic relief and supporting friend to Elisa (Sally Hawkins): Spencer though does not just do both things perfectly, she also breathes life and feeling to the part. Even though her role never amounts to anything particularly complex on a psychological level, Spencer brings heart and believability to her. Regarding the comedic side of her performance, Spencer is, as usual, hilarious: she has an absolutely brilliant comedic timing and an even more brilliant delivery, turning every line into absolute gold. The sassy, sarcastic friend is a character that can lead to annoying overacting, but that's never the case for Spencer - she's scene-stealing without being overbearing, loud without being grating. Actually, the ease with which she delivers her lines with what makes them so funny. Not to mention that she nails every single reaction, turning a single look into a comedic gem - I've seen the movie more than the once, and the moment in which she  is holding in the smoke from a cigarette in front of her boss only to exhale and keep on smoking as soon as he leaves the room never fails to crack me up. The other main aspect of her performance is Zelda's friendship with Elisa and the two actresses couldn't be more wonderful in their scenes together: the two of them convey exceptionally the history between the two - something especially impressive considering that Hawkins' performnce is silent - and on her part Spencer is fantastic at conveying Zelda' protectiveness towards her friend. Once Zelda becomes involved in the plan of freeing the creature, Spencer effectively shows her character's reservations and uncertainties (her "We should burn in hell" is hilariously perfect) but also her loyalty towards her friend and, as the story progresses, a growing understanding of the latter's feeling towards the so-called asset.

Though Spencer's performance is largely comical, she also has a few more serious moments. One of the main themes of the movie is social oppression and Spencer powerfully conveys tet feeling of being constantly looked down at both for being a janitor and especially for being a black woman. There's a terrific moment at the beginning in which Strickland makes some casually racist comments regarding black people and Spencer is fantastic at showing Zelda's inner rage but also her awareness that she can't afford to express her thoughts. But her best dramatic moments come towards the end with the highlight being the scene in which Strickland goes to her house and threatens her in an attempt to find out where the creature is: Spencer's work in the scene is largely reactionary but she does an absolutely excellent job at portraying Zelda's terrified state, her eyes wide open with tears rolling down her face, as she witnesses Strickland's unhinged outburst but also her unwillingness to betray her friend. And her subsequent lashing out at her husband is another nicely delivered moment, bringing a little more insight into Zelda's troubled domestic life that was previously only hinted at.

Zenda Fuller isn't an especially complex character but Octavia Spencer still manages to give a wonderful performance within the limitations of the role. She delivers a funny, scene-stealing turn that brightens up the film whenever she appears, but also breathes life into a potentially stock part and carries a surprisingly strong emotional weight. It's a strong performance from an excellent actress, and one of the elements that make The Shape of Water such an enchanting, remarkable experience.


domenica 18 febbraio 2018

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2017: Mary J. Blige in Mudbound

Mary J. Blige received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Florence Jackson in Mudbound.

Mudbound is an excellent movie about two families, one white and one black, living in rural Mississippi in the aftermath of World War II. I found the movie to be a rather striking depiction of that historical period and director Dee Rees deserves a lot of credit for crafting this story in a way that can be both shatteringly brutal and subtly, beautifully delicate. Voice-over is a tricky technique as it can often come off as an overly easy expedient, but it works here because of how exsquisitely written those inner monologues are: the screenplay is great not just because of the eloquence and beauty of the lines but also because of its ability to humanize most of its central characters. It's an empathetic movie with great attention for subtleties and details and it is certainly enriched by a strong ensemble, with Jason Mitchell and Garrett Hedlund being especially remarkable. Rachel Morrison's cinematography effectively captures the lonesome beauty of the landscape enhancing the sometimes threatening, sometimes tender and sometimes sad atmosphere of the movie. 

When the movie premiered at Sundance, Blige's performance received a rapturous response from critics: the extremely high expectations were probably the reasons why quite a few people found themselves quite disappointed by her work once the movie was released by Netflix. It's easy to see why Blige's work was underwhelming to some people: it's a character that spends a lot of its screen-time in the background and that doesn't get many big scenes, especially if compared to other characters in the movie. I went into the movie without expecting much for Blige's performance - and by the end of the movie, I was completely won over. This is not a showy performance, but her quiet performance is in many ways the movie's backbone. I found her work here to be exceptionally intriguing: I found myself searching for her reactionary work in the corner of the frame - even if the other actors get showier parts, I often found myself looking for the character of Florence, looking forward to see her quiet reaction to the events. She rarely gets the spotlight, but she doesn't need it: she says everything without needing to speak at all.

One of the most remarkable aspects of Blige's performance is her ability to get rid of her usual persona and disappear effortlessly into the role. But not only she convincingly portrays the character, but she has a surprisingly brilliant understanding of the character, which is especially impressive if you consider she does not have a lot of experience in acting: in her stoic, silent performance you can read the character's whole history to the point that you don't need the voice-over to know what she's thinking - Blige conveys everything through her confident, assured performance. She is excellent in her scenes with her family: Blige imbues Florence with an underlying yet firm sense of warmth though without a hint of sentimentality. And she shares an amazing chemistry with both Jason Mitchell, who plays her eldest son Ronsel, and Rob Morgan, who plays her husband Hap. In her scenes with the former, she's great at portraying Florence's motherly love: their first scene in the movie, in which she tells him goodbye but refuses to look at him as he goes away, is a heartbreaking moment outstandingly acted by Blige who portrays so well Florence's plight but also her strength and determination to keep it bottled up. Once Ronsel returns from the war, Blige captures so well the concern and helplessness of a mother who wants to help her son but doesn't know how. This doesn't mean their relationship turns sour though and together they create one of the most heartwarming moments of the whole movie: the scene I'm referring to is the one in which Ronsel buys a chocolate bar for Florence and insists that she doesn't share it with anyone else because he wants to have it all for herself. It's a beautiful moment, and Blige's heartfelt, moving reaction is a big reason why. And she's splendid in her moments with Morgan, wih the two actors conveying so beautifully the love between Florence and Hap in such an unassaming, heartfelt fashion. Their dancing scene is a tender, lovely moment and the two actors are absolutely wonderful in it.

She is also terrific in the scenes that depict Florence working for the McAllans, the white family. I particularly love the scene in which Hap tells her he doesn't her to work for white people but she says "I wouldn't be working for them, I'd be working for us": Blige is fantastic at portraying Florence's pragmatism above everything else - she isn't crazy about the idea herself, but she knows that she has to accept some compromises for the family to move somewhere better. In the scenes at work, Blige excels at showing her pride and unwillingness to be treated like a slave - she's polite but never subservient - but also her awareness that she does not have the McAllans' social privilege. I particularly love her chemistry with Carey Mulligan - Blige is outstanding at showing how Florence does genuinely like Laura and think of her as a good person, but also her unwillingness to get close to her and to consider her a friend. She's especially great in the scene in which Florence comforts Laura after the latter has suffered a miscarriage - Blige brings just enough warmth to the scene but also conveys a certain distance in her manner: Florence can't afford to get attached to Laura - there's too much at stake for her and for her own family. 

I get that this performance might not appeal to anyone, and I can see why someone would feel she did nothing in this movie. But for me this is a fantastic performance from Mary J. Blige, who makes Florence the beating heart of the movie: it's a subtle, reserved, layered and rich piece of work, crafting a three-dimensional human being despite often staying in the background. She quietly leaves an impression whenever she appears and when the movie is over it's her performance that leaves the strongest impact. A terrific piece of work. 


giovedì 15 febbraio 2018

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2017: Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird

Laurie Metcalf received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Marion McPherson in Lady Bird.

Mothers in movies or TV series about teenagers are often depicted in a rather lazy fashion, often falling into the stereotype of the warm, affecionate and sometimes overly protective one or the stereotype of the busy, neglectful one. Lady Bird stands as one of the best teen movies ever also because of its ability to never fall into clichés, and that's especially true for the role of Marion, Lady Bird's mother: Greta Gerwig writes her as an incredibly complicated, rich and layered character giving her a considerable amount of screen-time but most of all real complexity, personality and life. And Laurie Metcalf gives an absolutely fantastic performance that brings justice to the material.

The best way I can compliment this performance is by saying how real I felt it was: there is absolutely no artifice whatsoever in her performance and it's so genuine it doesn't even feel like acting. I never saw Metcalf playing a character, I saw a woman that felt true to me, as if I could have met her anyday. As I mentioned in my review of Saoirse Ronan's performance, it's easy to identify yourself or someone you know into the characters of the movie: and the same is true for Laurie Metcalf's performance - it's easy to see someone you know in the character of Marion and that's also because Metcalf gives a performance so spontaneous and so true to the everyday life. And she has such a clear grasp on the character: her understanding of Marion is evident and she embodies her in a way that is seemingly effortless even though it's not. She is sympathetic towards the character's flaws without ever sugarcoating them and both she and Gerwig depict her character with great dignity and respect. I was especially impressed by Metcalf's ability to convey the character's life even though the movie focuses mostly on her relationship with her daughter (obviously): there are only a few moments in which we see Marion outside of her scenes with Christine, and yet thanks to Metcalf's so brilliantly realized performance and Gerwig's expert writing I felt like I truly knew this woman in all of the different aspects of her life. With incredible subtlety, Metcalf manages to convey the strain and the weariness of this woman, a nurse working double shifts to support her family, and always showing the reasons behind Marion's no-bullshit attitude. There's one point in the movie in which Lucas Hedges' character describes Marion as "scary and warm" and Metcalf manages to make that descrpition somewhat fitting. There's definitely a certain degree of warmth in her interactions and her motherly love for Christine is never once in question, but at the same time Metcalf brings the needed harshness and intensity to the more confrontational moments between the two.

Of course the key element to the success of Metcalf's performance is her chemistry with Saoirse Ronan and that is absolutely top-notch. They create an incredibly realistic and relatable dynamic between their two characters and they work together in such a perfect armony. There is never a single moment in which one of them is overshadowed by the other - they elevate each other's performances, building together the complicated, troubled relationship between Marion and Christine and nailing both the comedy and the drama required in their scenes together. Their bickering couldn't be more entertaining - both actresses have a pitch-perfect comedic timing, an exceptional skill at delivering even the trickiest lines and an exceptional ability to use their body language to enhance the hilarity of a scene. Even in the most light-hearted moments though they never fail to find the emotional core of their relationship and the two actresses excel at conveying the love between the two. Metcalf is amazing at showing how Marion sincerely hopes for the best regarding her daughter's future - when she says "I want you to be the best version of yourself that you can be" you know she means it - and that the only reason why she doesn't want her to apply for colleges out of state is because of their financial situation. She's particularly heartbreaking at conveying her awareness of her family's modest wealth and her growing realization of her daughter's shame of it: her reaction at finding out that Christine said she was "born on the wrong side of the track" is subtly devastating. And her heated confrontation with Christine regarding the same subject is one of the movie's strongest moments and Metcalf is phenomenal in it, unleashing her character's frustration at doing her best and never receiving any gratitude for it. Their relationship though is not only made of downs and in their sweeter moments the two actresses couldn't be more heartwarming, especially in the wonderful scene in which Marion comforts Christine after she lost her virginity to the not quite sincere Kyle (Timothée Chalamet). But of course the crowning moment of her performance is the airport scene: I won't spoil it here, but Metcalf is the definition of amazing in it, heartbreakingly portraying Marion's attempts to bottle up her feelings until slowly breaking down. It's the best scene of the movie and one of the most moving moments of the year.

This is a beautiful performance from Laurie Metcalf and its greatest strength is that it feels so real, relatable and honest. It never feels like a performance, it feels like real life: Metcalf brings honesty, depth and dignity to the role and delivers an incredible performance that is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Wonderful work in a wonderful movie. 


sabato 10 febbraio 2018

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2017

And the nominees are...

Mary J. Blige - Mudbound
Allison Janney - I, Tonya
Lesley Manville - Phantom Thread
Laurie Metcalf - Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer - The Shape of Water

What are your predictions for my ranking? How would you personally rank the nominees?

giovedì 8 febbraio 2018

Best Actress in a Leading Role 2017: Ranking

5. Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Blasphemy perhaps, but I was just less impressed by McDormand's work when compared to the rest of the nominees. That said, she is by far my favorite aspect of the movie and she gives a compelling, captivating performance throughout. As per usual she's entertaining but most importantly she powerfully portrays her character's grief and nicely realizes her development over the course of the movie.
Best scene: Her last scene with her husband.

4. Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird
Saoirse Ronan gives a wonderfully spontaneous performance carrying this gem of a movie flawlessly. She's funny, charming, touching and relatable, crafting a character with whom the viewer can easily identify and she works wonders with her exceptional ensemble. 
Best scene: Her fight at home with her parents.

3. Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water
Sally Hawkins delivers a luminous performance that works perfectly in sync with Guillermo Del Toro's direction. She finds the beauty in the character's simplicity and gives a heartbreaking, compelling and enchanting performance from start to finish.
Best scene: The singing scene.

2. Meryl Streep in The Post
The more I think about the movie the less I like it, but Meryl Streep gives one of her most powerful performances here. She gives an empowering and moving portrayal of the emotional journey of a woman coming to realize her self-worth. An incredibly layered, subtle and rich characterization.
Best scene: Katharine stands up to the board members.

1. Margot Robbie in I, Tonya
Coming on top of this exceptionally good line-up is Margot Robbie who gives a transformative and groundbreaking performance as Tonya Harding. She gives an extremely entertaining portrayal of the emotional mess that her character is yet never turns her into a joke: instead, she manages to make us sympathize with the character and understand her actions. It's a brilliant achievement and the last half an hour of her performance is the definition of devastating.
Best scene: Tonya is banned from skating for life.

Honorable Omissions: Florence Pugh is incredible in Lady Macbeth, beautifully subverting the trope of the unhappily married woman: she is great at portraying the plight that comes from her situation but also her character's cold-blooded drive to escape from it. It's a chilling, mesmerizing portrayal fom a startlingly great newcomer. As much as I loved Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water, I loved her even more in Maudie: not only her physical acting is incredibly convincing and natural, but she also gives a heartbreaking portrayal of her character's yearning to express herself and nailing all of the emotional beats of the part while sharing a brilliant chemistry with Ethan Hawke on top of that. Carla Gugino is amazing in Gerald's Game conveying so powerfully the growing distress and exhaustion of her character while subtly and powerfully exploring her character's psyche: the movie stambles in the third act, but she manages to keep it all together by making the viewer so invested in her personal journey. Dafne Keen is fantastic in Logan, bringing the right amount of badass energy and ferocity to the character while also delivering a very moving portrayal of a kid who never got to live a normal life: her final scenes with Hugh Jackman are heartbreaking. Salma Hayek is wonderful in Beatriz at Dinner, realistically and honestly portraying her character's humbleness and genuine sincerity as well as her intimate, personal plight. She stands as a symbol for the movie's themes and her confrontational scenes with John Lithgow are fiercely compelling but she also gives a three-dimensional, touching performance: her phone call scene is one of the most moving scenes I've seen this year. Emma Stone is great in Battle of the Sexes bringing the right amount of passion and personality to the character. What she is especially good at is conveying her confidence on the tennis court and her vulnerability outside of it, as Billie Jean is still trying to figure out herself. Victoria & Abdul is simply awful but Judi Dench gives one of her best performances in it: she's fun, endearing, strong-willed and moving as the dying Queen Victoria and she manages to be unharmed by the movie's flaws simply due to her commitment to the role. Nicole Kidman's performance in The Beguiled is fascinatingly and chillingly ambigous and she does a fantastic job at subtly conveying the turmoil of Mrs. Farnsworth underneath her strict, domineering façade: her facial expression in the dinner scene towards the end is alone worthy of praise. I absolutely hated mother! but I was extremely impressed by Jennifer Lawrence's performance: even when the movie was at its most frustrating, I thought she gave an emotionally exhausting, committed and raw performance and if I managed to get through the movie is only becuse of the strength of her work. Charlize Theron makes for an excellent action lead in Atomic Blonde, carrying the movie perfectly with her exceptional screen-presence and charisma, and Jane Fonda gives a nice, little, moving performance in Our Souls at Night, sharing a lovely chemistry with Robert Redford.
The next year: Either Best Supporting Actor or Best Supporting Actress 2017. What would you all prefer?

My Best Actress Ballot:
  1. Margot Robbie, I, Tonya 
  2. Florence Pugh, Lady Macbeth - 5/5
  3. Meryl Streep, The Post
  4. Sally Hawkins, Maudie - 5/5
  5. Carla Gugino, Gerald's Game - 5/5
  6. Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
  7. Dafne Keen, Logan - 5/5
  8. Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
  9. Salma Hayek, Beatriz at Dinner - 4.5/5
  10. Emma Stone, Battle of the Sexes - 4.5/5

martedì 6 febbraio 2018

Best Actress in a Leading Role 2017: Meryl Streep in The Post

Meryl Streep received her twenty-first nomination for her performance as Katharine Graham in The Post.

The Post is a fine enough movie about the Washington Post journalists and their struggle to publish the Pentagon Papers in 1971. It's a fairly enjoyable film that I did not mind watching though at the same time I can't say I found it to be anything notable either. It shares the same problems I have with some of Spielberg's recent movies (though here I think they are especially evident): it's quite dated and uninventive in its style and suffers from a rather overbearing score. The strength of the movie mostly comes from the fact that its two main themes, the importance of freedom of press and the struggle of women to make their voices heard, are extremely timely and relevant nowadays and its quite interesting to draw comparisons between the social and political situation of 1971 and our contemporary one. 

Meryl Streep plays Katharine Graham, the owner and publisher of The Washington Post. Though it's common nowadays to deem her as a somewhat overrated actress, and I'd agree that some of her Oscar nominations are a bit of a stretch, I think Streep is an immensely talented actress that can make technical and calculated acting feel effortless and sincere. Her performance in The Post is rather peculiar as it's one of her least mannered performances and it feels incredibly restrained, especially if compared to her recently nominated performances (Florence Foster Jenkins, Into the Woods, August: Osage County, The Iron Lady). It's a role that required perhaps a less extreme physical transformation for Streep, but the way she disappears into the character is still incredibly impressive in a low-key fashion: she slightly alters her usual tone of voice to resemble Graham's and she also adjusts her accent a little bit - it's very subtle vocal work but if you watch an interview of Graham her similarity is quite astounding. Moreover, she imbues her portrayal of Graham with a great degree of grace and elegance fitting to a person of Graham's wealth and status while showing beautifully an underlying insecurity in her behavior. Her whole life, Graham had been accustomed to being a wife, a mother and a great host for parties but not being at the head of the paper: her own father gave it to Graham's husband, and she inherited it only after her husband's tragic suicide. Streep conveys the history of the character brilliantly through her performance: when she has to meet the bank's representatives, she feels awkward and out-of-the-place (and she conveys this feeling so well through brilliant, almost unnoticeable small gestures) and often leaves the big decisions up to other members of the board. What's particularly moving is that Streep conveys so well Graham's constant humiliation as she often feels undermined by every person around her but also shows how she has passively accepts the role that society has decided for her - simply because she doesn't know any different. But she also shows that there is a great potential in her and she brings cleverness and wit to the part.

Once The New York Times publishes an article denouncing the content of the Pentagon Papers and the subsequent injunction against further publication from it, Graham and the team of journalists of The Washington Post have to make a difficult choice: if they help the truth get out, they will have to face the threat of criminal charges. Streep is terrific at portraying her character's inner turmoil with incredible expressiveness yet remarkable subtlety: even at the beginning, where she is initially dismissive of the whole situation, she effectively conveys Graham's awereness of the scale of the situation. The situation forces her to reconsider her whole life: on one hand, by publishing the papers, she would expose the lies of people that she considers friends, such as Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood, reliably strong); on the other hand, she'd have to take an active step against the members of the board who are against the idea. Streep does an absolutely amazing job at conveying the growing confidence of Graham, who uncovers her conscience and slowly starts to realize that her opinion matters. She realizes the personal growth of her character beautifully, carefully showing how scene by scene she grows more and more self-assured. She is great in her scene opposite Greenwood in which she shows both the genuine guilt she feels for denouncing his mistakes but also the inner convintion that she is doing the right thing and her unwillingness to give up her search for truth. Her acting in the phone call, in which she agrees to the publishment of the papers, is amazing as she conveys so well the doubt and uncertainty of Graham but also her courage that leads to make the choice.

Over the course of the movie, Streep shares many scenes with Tom Hanks, who plays journalist Ben Bradlee. Unfortunately, I found Hanks' performance to be far too mannered and overcooked to truly work and his chemistry with Streep is not especially strong due to his performance's shortcomings: nonetheless, Streep is unaffected by this - perhaps the whole movie would have worked better with two great performances at its center, but her performance is always utterly captivating from beginning to end. Her greatest moments come towards the end: her tearful speech to her daughter (Alison Brie) in which she reminisces the grief after her husband's suicide while also reflecting on how she has been always looked down at, even by the people she loved, as if she weren't worthy of her position, is an outstanding moment acted to perfection by Streep who couldn't have been more heartfelt and devastating. But her best moment is the one in which she finally defies all of the board members, claiming her authority as the owner of The Washington Post and refusing to be silenced by them: it's an empowering, brilliant moment that feels completely earned by Streep who brings a terrific closure to Graham's journey of self-discovery and self-realization.

While The Post is overall a rather standard movie, Meryl Streep's leading performance is anything but. It's one of the most layered, rich and complex performances she has ever given and she portrays impeccably Graham's transition into an independent, strong-willed woman. It's a beautiful performance full of powerful moments and, ultimately, she is the only reason why the movie isn't instantly forgettable. A subtle, fantastic achievement.