Steven Spielberg’s latest, The Post, is a gripping journalism drama, with a superb cast and a timely message/warning of the power of the press.
Set, mostly, in 1971, over a ten day period with the release of the Pentagon Papers and the going public of The Washington Post Company, The Post bounces back between the newsroom and the boardroom of the, at the time, local paper of the D.C. area. Meryl Streep plays Kay Graham, the owner of the company, nervously wading through a job she never thought she would have and defaulting to her right hand men as others at the table openly worry that her being a woman will be the ruin of their public offering, or even the company itself. On the newsroom side of things, Tom Hanks plays Ben Bradlee, leading his team to try to get into the game that is the publishing of the Pentagon Papers by the paper of record, The New York Times. When President Nixon and his Justice Department start coming for the Times and the 1st Amendment right for the freedom of the press, the stakes are raised on what to do and Graham is caught between the tenacious Bradlee, who wants to publish, and her board, who would rather not rock the boat while public offering in a some legal limbo.
That’s the plot of The Post, but what the film is really about is President Trump, and how thin a line of defense there potentially is between the democratic guidelines our country is supposedly built on and how that can so easily be swept away by the wrong person, man, in The White House. The Post makes a more than compelling case for the power of journalism, the hard work that goes into it and how it is not only a vital piece of our democratic values, but an irreplaceable one. We can’t have our government dictate what can and can’t be said about them, and we must hold them accountable when they lie and attempt to deceive us. It’s sort of sad watching this film, how far we’ve come in this age of Trump, allowing him to say whatever he wants, and even worse that we don’t even just get the facts; everything cycled into a both sides narrative that allows people to more easily stay on whatever side they want to believe.
The Post also deals with the placement of women in the workplace and how it wasn’t that long ago that we, as a society, didn’t even think an entire gender was even capable of running a company. It’s great to see Graham’s triumph in this film, but the misogyny at play in this film has by no means left us today, and you have to look no further than our 2016 election to see how unready this country is to give power to women. The most beautiful/moving shot of this film is a tracking shot of Streep leaving the Supreme Court, and she files out through a sea of women longingly looking at this woman in power. They could be looking at Graham, or Streep, both powerful women who stand up for what they feel is right, but the message of inspiration that can be brought from the awe of just seeing women given an equal chance at any element of this world is powerful.
Spielberg made this film from script to screen in nine months and the master filmmaker makes it look easy. His camera weaves through the newsroom, he finds little stories in the big picture and he lets his actors do their thing in many long takes that hold the tension or thrill of the moment. The film spends the first third or so setting up the dynamics of Graham’s and Bradlee’s realms, letting us get to know all the players, before putting the pedal to the floor once The Post gets its hands on copies of a large majority of the Pentagon Papers. From here, the film really hits its stride and does a wonderful job of sucking us into the drama and battle that unfolds around the intent of the two competing rooms in Graham’s life. Spielberg continues to show why he’s the best, and while The Post isn’t his most flashy or effects driven effort, the guy still makes movies as entertaining as anyone out there, beautifully bringing Liz Hannah and Josh Singer’s script to life.
It helps to make a film this good, this fast, when your cast is this stacked. Streep and Hanks, arguably considered the best two actors of their generation (Daniel Day-Lewis would like a seat at that table) get their first film together and they just kill it. And why wouldn’t they. Streep brings a fantastic vulnerability and hesitation to Graham, slowly building up the strength she needs to bust through and become the leader she never thought she would/could be. Hanks is on fire as Bradlee, bringing a bit of different energy to the man than Jason Robards did famously in, the retroactive pseudo-sequel thanks to Spielberg’s final scene of The Post, All the President’s Men. Hanks is endlessly watchable and charismatic in the part, as he always is, giving the film a lot of its comedy and energy in the newsroom. To comment on everyone else in the supporting roles of the film would take an eternity, the cast is incredible, but I will hit on some of the standouts. Bob Odenkirk plays reporter Ben Bagdikian and brings a quiet commitment and humor to the role as the man that gets his hands on the Pentagon Papers, changing the trajectory of The Washington Post forever. Tracy Letts is great as Fritz Beebe, Graham’s right hand man, and he does a great job of being respectful of his boss, but not over playing the part as an overzealous defender either, Letts plays it perfectly caught in between. Carrie Coon is also a ball of energy in the newsroom crew, David Cross feels like the perfect editorial team guy who’s been there forever, Sarah Paulson nails her one turning point scene, Bradley Whitford is respectfully slimy, Bruce Greenwood is a deer in headlights as an ex-official caught in the middle of all this, Matthew Rhys and Jesse Plemons come in and nail their couple scenes each, the list could go on and, but maybe nothing made me happier than seeing Zach Woods in a Spielberg movie!
Steven Spielberg is our greatest filmmaker and The Post proves again how diverse and vital he can be, not just to our film world, but the world as a whole. The film is an entertaining history lesson, filled with fantastic performances from an incredible ensemble, and is a reminder of why the press and the freedom it is given is so important. A film for our times and one that will stand the test of it as one of our great films about the craft of journalism and the guts it sometimes takes to be in the game.