The Post: Film Review
In a time where our government is concerned with manipulating and misdirecting the media to create doubts and confusion, it is heartening to watch a film like The Post and know that newspapers in this country were once the bastions of truth, the essential element of checks and balances that held our leaders to higher standard. Director Steven Spielberg has captured in The Post a cautionary tale, one that reminds those who deliver our news that they have a solemn duty to get at the heart of every truth, so hold our leaders responsible for their egregious choices and behavior.
The Post commences in 1971 and Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) is the first female publisher of a major American newspaper. Surrounded by men, many of whom view her authority as more of a figurehead than an active player, Graham is unafraid to make difficult, risk-calculated decisions, though her low-key demeanor would suggest otherwise. When editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) brings to her a story that might shake the very foundations of the Nixon White House, the Vietnam War, and the American Constitution, she must weigh the prudency of risking her paper and its employees’ jobs against journalistic integrity and the story’s importance. The story in question: has the White House, for decades, been covering up details about the failing war in Vietnam and to what ends has their cover up led to the death of thousands of American soldiers?
A compelling true story about real people, The Post features two fine, understated performances from Streep and Hanks. It was refreshing to see these two scene-stealing, over-the-top performers, settle back into subtler, more introspective characterizations. Streep balances strength and vulnerability, infusing Graham with a thoughtful, human personality. Hanks, as Bradlee is both rabidly obsessed and quietly resolute. His Bradlee sees no way forward other than to make sure this story is printed, but Hanks makes sure to keep him honest and fair to those he works with and for. He’s a good man, but a dog with a bone. We know he simply will not let go, and we know exactly why. The supporting cast is universally excellent, with wonderful turns by Bradley Whitford, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Bruce Greenwood, and Tracy Letts. Sadly, a few top-notch actors such as Jessie Mueller and Stark Sands are wasted in thankless, throwaway roles. Still, it’s nice to have their talents in the mix.
Streep will assuredly receive an Oscar nomination for her work in this film, but it is nowhere near her showiest product. Neither is it Spielberg’s. His touch here is gentle. There is nothing particularly “Spielbergian” in his approach to The Post. No gimmicks. No carefully orchestrated crowd scenes or bold cinematography. It’s just good, honest storytelling (which Spielberg usually does very well) and that is why The Post succeeds. Even though we know the story’s outcome (which causes the film to lose a little steam in its third act), screenwriters Josh Singer and Elizabeth Hannah keep the story tight and sublimely dramatic while Spielberg reminds us of the obligations journalists have in this society. The freedom of the press is afforded in this country, not to be a mouthpiece and three-ring-circus for its leaders, but to hold the governing accountable to the governed. Perhaps our current media could take a page from the books of Graham, Bradlee, and the brave reporters of a 1971 Washington Post.