For a re­view of “The Post,”

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Steven Spiel­berg’s “The Post” tells the story of a news­pa­per stand­ing up to a United States pres­i­dent who wants to bully the free press into sub­mis­sion. The year is 1971 and the fight is over the Pen­tagon Pa­pers, a trove of clas­si­fied doc­u­ments pub­lished by The Washington Post de­spite le­gal threats from Richard Nixon’s White House. “The Post” may be a pe­riod piece, but its cen­tral bat­tle could take place in just about any era, in­clud­ing and per­haps es­pe­cially this one.

“The Post,” es­sen­tially a two- han­der, fea­tures two very fine old hands who have never be­fore come to­gether on screen: Meryl Streep, as Post pub­lisher Katharine Gra­ham, and Tom Hanks, as ed­i­tor Ben Bradlee. These two char­ac­ters are very dif­fer­ent peo­ple: Gra­ham is a Capi­tol Hill so­ci­ety ma­tron who’s friendly with high­pow­ered types like Sec­re­tary of De­fense Robert S. McNa­mara ( Bruce Green­wood), while Bradlee is a gen­teel ras­cal who’s not above send­ing an in­tern to hang out in the of­fices of The New York Times. ( Ja­son Ro­bards won an Os­car for his crusty Bradlee in “All the Pres­i­dent’s Men,” but Hanks puts his own mis­chievous stamp on the role.) The new­shound and the busi­ness woman have co­ex­isted for years with­out hav­ing to ruf­fle each other’s feath­ers. That is about to change.

When Nixon legally stops The Times from pub­lish­ing the Pen­tagon Pa­pers — a damn­ing re­port sug­gest­ing years of of­fi­cial false­hoods about Viet­nam — Post re­porter Ben Bagdikian ( a wry Bob Odenkirk) ob­tains his own copy. Gra­ham and Bradlee must now de­cide what to do: Sit on the doc­u­ments and pro­tect the pa­per from le­gal ac­tion, or up­hold the prin­ci­ples of a free press and pub­lish? Screen­writ­ers Liz Han­nah and Josh Singer do a fine job of turn­ing ab­stract is­sues into taut drama with tense phone calls, news­room pow­wows and board­room blowups.

“The Post” some­times feels more el­e­gant than ur­gent, more finely crafted than fer­vent. Still, the cast and crew de­serve credit for mak­ing this film at a fast clip ( it was re­port­edly fin­ished just last month) in re­sponse to what’s go­ing on right here and now. If the film’s real- life sub­jects were alive, they would surely ap­prove.

“The Post,” a Twentieth Cen­tury Fox re­lease, is rated PG- 13 for lan­guage. Run­ning time: 115 min­utes.

“Film Stars Don’t Die in Liver­pool”

The rea­son to pay at­ten­tion to “Film Stars Don’t Die In Liver­pool” is the rea­son it got made in the first place: the op­por­tu­nity it pro­vides to see star An­nette Ben­ing in ac­tion.

Ben­ing has al­ways been savvy in the roles she se­lects, and for decades, ever since she first dis­cov­ered the work of Glo­ria Gra­hame while pre­par­ing for her role in “The Grifters,” she’s been in­ter­ested in tak­ing on the story of the last years of the Os­car- win­ning ac­tress.

Ben­ing has done a re­mark­able job of cap­tur­ing Gra­hame’s look and her breathy way of talk­ing, in­sur­ing that her per­for­mance is real and us­ing it to ex­plore the still rel­e­vant is­sues of ag­ing, glam­our and re­la­tion­ships.

In her day, Gra­hame was one of Hol­ly­wood’s most ac­com­plished creators of femme fa­tales, a film noir stalwart who won her Os­car for “The Bad and the Beau­ti­ful” and did mem­o­rable work in “The Big Heat,” “Cross­fire,” “Sud­den Fear” and costar­ring with Humphrey Bog­art in “In a Lonely Place.”

Once seen, never for­got­ten, Gra­hame had a very par­tic­u­lar wised- up af­fect (“un­fath­omable and un­gras­pable” is how critic Ju­dith Wil­liamson de­scribed it). But “Film Stars” doesn’t deal with her time on screen so much as her life off it.

In the late 1970s, when Gra­hame was in her 50s and work­ing on stage in Eng­land, she met a 28- year- old ac­tor named Peter Turner, and their friend­ship turned into a ro­mance and then some­thing more.

In 1986, Turner pub­lished an af­fect­ing mem­oir on their re­la­tion­ship ( it gives the film its ti­tle) and it’s been turned into an en­gag­ing fea­ture by screen­writer Matt Green­halgh and di­rec­tor Paul McGuigan.

Green­halgh, whose pre­vi­ous scripts con­cerned the early days of rock­ers Ian Cur­tis of Joy Divi­sion (“Con­trol”) and the Bea­tles’ John Len­non (“Nowhere Boy”), is in fa­mil­iar celebrity ter­ri­tory here, and di­rec­tor McGuigan tries hard to bring vis­ual in­ter­est to the pro­ceed­ings.

“Film Stars” opens in 1981 in Lan­caster, Eng­land, with Gra­hame in a the­ater dress­ing room, pat­ting a cig­a­rette case Bog­art gave her after “Lonely Place” and pre­par­ing to go on stage in “The Glass Menagerie.”

At the same time in Liver­pool, Turner ( ef­fec­tively played by Jamie Bell) is work­ing as an ac­tor but back liv­ing with his par­ents, the silent Joe ( Ken­neth Cran­ham) and the way more vo­cal Bella ter­ri­tory). ( Julie Wal­ters in fa­mil­iar

Then the phone rings in Liver­pool and Turner finds out that Gra­hame has fallen sud­denly ill. It’s clear these two haven’t spo­ken in awhile and that they have a past.

In the here and now, Gra­hame wants to go to Liver­pool and re­cu­per­ate in Joe’s fam­ily home un­der the care of Bella, whom she’s al­ways got on well with.

“I could get bet­ter there,” the ac­tress says, and though that doesn’t seem com­pletely likely, there’s no doubt that Gra­hame be­lieves it.

“Liver­pool” shut­tles reg­u­larly back and forth be­tween its time pe­ri­ods, fromthe preill­ness be­gin­nings of the re­la­tion­ship to the way the end game played out.

The pair met in 1979, when they both lived in the same Lon­don room­ing house. Their con­nec­tion was im­me­di­ate and sur­vived a first date watch­ing “Alien,” which ter­ri­fied him and made her laugh.

Turner has no idea who Gra­hame is at first, but their land­lady clues him in. “She was a big name in black-and white films,” he’s told. “Not do­ing too well in color.”

As with most ro­man­tic films that don’t have hap­pily ever after in their DNA, the best parts of “Liver­pool” in­volve what hap­pens when stresses man­i­fest them­selves, in this case when Gra­hame re­turns to the U. S. and Turner- comes with her.

One of the film’s more astrin­gent scenes show­cases a din­ner in Mal­ibu with Gra­hame's mother ( an ef­fec­tive Vanessa Red­grave cameo) and and her waspish sis­ter (Frances Bar­ber), who lets a lot of skele­tons out of the closet.

Even bet­ter is a se­quence in New York, told first from Turner’s point of view, and then Gra­hame’s, that dis­plays Ben­ing’s abil­ity to cre­ate a char­ac­ter both frag­ile and wil­ful but de­ter­mined to deal with life on her own terms.

Ben­ing’s per­for­mance deep­ens as Gra­hame’s sit­u­a­tion grows in com­plex­ity, and the rea­sons she wanted to play this part for so long be­come in­creas­ingly clear. Not ev­ery ac­tor’s dream works out well for the au­di­ence but this is one Ben­ing fans will not want to miss.

“Film Stars Don’t Die in Liver­pool,” a Sony Pic­tures Clas­sics re­lease, is rated R for for lan­guage, some sex­ual con­tent and brief nu­dity. Run­ning time: 105 min­utes.

TRI­BUNE NEWS SER­VICE

Jamie Bell, left, and An­nette Ben­ing star in “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liver­pool.”

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