The Post Review
A powerful reminder of the importance of a free press
All time greats Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg combine for a smart, entertaining film that goes toe-to-toe with Spotlight.In this fraught time, in which tabloid rags spread racist propaganda and the President of the United States claims all and sundry is ‘fake news’, someone needed to reclaim journalism’s glory. Steven Spielberg directs this film, which deals with the true story of the Washington Post journalists who fought to publish the Pentagon Papers, which contained classified information about United States involvement in the Vietnam War. The papers showed that successive governments had known the war was un-winnable for decades and the paper's fight to publish them led to the Watergate scandal.In The Post, Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) is at the helm of the Washington Post, having taken over the role after her husband’s suicide. As a lone woman in charge of a paper dominated by men, Graham lacks confidence in her ability to run the paper and is often out-shouted by the men of the newsroom, including editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks). The film is very much set in the 1970s – throwback props like payphones, rolled-up sleeves, smoking cigarettes indoors and a corrupt government (that would never happen now, am I right?) are used with abandon.
Naturally, both Streep and Hanks are superb – though neither is really required to pull out anything we haven’t seen before. There’s a bit of cheese, a bit of corniness, but it’s all part of the fun.
The big turning point of the film comes when the New York Times announces they have a huge scoop about the Vietnam War, but a pesky injunction stops them from publishing. The damning evidence the Times had is mysteriously delivered to the Post, and Ben Bagdikian (an excellent Bob Odenkirk) discovers that their source is Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), a former government employee.
The rest of the film involves a race against time for the Post to publish their story before they are compelled to silence. This haste is also seemingly applied to the crew of the film, and the last portion feels strangely hurried. The real-life story of what happened to Ellsberg in the years after his leak is, arguably, more interesting than the story of the Post and Graham’s decision to publish the story. But that’s another film. This film is about journalistic integrity, uncovering the truth and feminism.
Both Streep and Hanks are superb – though neither is required to deliver anything we haven’t seen before
Taken as a companion piece to All the President’s Men, this film works. I mean, taken as a prequel to All the President’s Men, this film works. True, it might not have the feel of an instant classic but it’s got a rousing moral core, a stupendous cast and a director who knows just how to set a mood. The screenplay, by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer (a writer on Spotlight) waxes lyrical about the merits of print journalism and includes maybe a couple too many stirring monologues, but it’s still an excellent piece of work. Characters are well-rounded, the story moves along at an entertaining pace, and they manage to make what could quite easily have been a stuffy and dull historical artefact into a zippy, thrilling piece of cinema.
Sure, Spielberg gives in to some temptations; there are quite a few classic cinema tropes thrown in – a particularly memorable scene involves a busy road and a pocketful of change – but they don’t take away from the entertainment value of the film. This is a really solid, thoughtful and enjoyable film that mediates on questions of ethics, good and power. And really, there couldn’t be a better time for this film.
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