If there was ever a movie more suited for this current time, The Post would be the one. In this current era, where words are tossed around like “fake news”, we need to be reminded about speaking truth to power through the written word. Despite the period-specific sideburns and a screen choked with casual cigarette smoke of 1971, The Post couldn’t be more about 2017 if it tried.
(This review is spoiler-free)
Based on a true story, The Post goes into the newsroom during a time of change in the United States in 1971. A US government cover-up about the Vietnam War pushes the country’s first female newspaper owner (Meryl Streep) and a hard-driving editor(Tom Hanks) to join a battle between the press and the government.
At this point in history, The Washington Post isn’t the global news power that it is now; rather a cash-strapped small-town paper that ran against the more well-known New York Times. Streep plays Katherine Graham, the first female publisher, who is doing her best to keep her family paper afloat in a deep news market, headed by the Times. Her maverick editor Ben Bradlee (Hanks) looks for innovative ways to scoop the New York news juggernaut and compete with them. Somehow, they always come up short. After the Times publishes a trove of top-secret government documents that detail a web of lies and secrecy about the war in Vietnam that spans decades before the conflict, President Nixon sues to stop publication of these secrets. Seeing this attack by the government against the press, Bradlee gathers his team of reporters to pick up the cart and continue to carry on to report on what would be later called The Pentagon Papers. This is a calculated risk as the paper is going up against the full power of the presidency in order to report the truth.
This film hinges on the push-pull dynamic between Bradlee and Graham. Bradlee is a win-at-any-costs, rolled-shirtsleeve, and charismatic radical and Hanks fit that role well. He’s never been more of a terrific rascal in one of his best roles in recent years. Streep was fantastic as Graham. In a beautiful and one of her best recent performances, we see how this high-class boss, who’s more comfortable hosting parties with deep pockets rather than making tough calls in the bullpen, grows into the responsibility of her role. She understands that she has to do the right thing, even if it goes against what she is used to. Streep’s performance also elevates The Post from being more than a First Amendment story; it becomes a feminist story. At that time, it was uncommon for a woman to be in charge of any major company and that became more apparent in the movie as Graham interacted with her board of directors. Spielberg shows his mastery of storytelling by making the plot easy to follow, not overcomplicating it and this film’s power is assisted with the score from long-time Spielberg collaborator, John Williams. Bob Odenkirk also delivered with a strong supporting role as Bradlee’s resourceful right hand man.
The message of this movie is clear: an adversarial press is essential to democracy. It doesn’t need repeating at all. Spielberg couldn’t help but turn this into a “message movie”, catching a lucky break with the current political climate after the 2016 election and this movie seems to have come at a destined time. This film was a very good political drama that mirrors today’s world, keeping the audience engaged despite the fact that they were not apart of untangling the mystery along with the characters. We’ll see how it fares in the Oscars in a few weeks.