Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Bob Odenkirk, Carrie Coon, Sarah Paulson, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Rhys, Jesse Plemons, David Cross, Zach Woods
Director Steven Spielberg has spent the recent part of his career making historical dramas with Munich, Lincoln, and Bridge of Spies, not to mention all of his war-based films. He wants to hold a mirror to our past so we can learn from history and apply it to our present day political environment. The Post uses the Vietnam War as it’s starting point with Matthew Rhys as Daniel, a vet who witnesses government officials lying about the progress being made overseas. It’s within hundreds of top-secret files where he realizes just how far back this cover-up has been going on. With a little help from some friends, he sets out to make copies of the “Justification for War” report. It’s the New York Times that publishes the first story about these findings. Ben Bradlee (Hanks), one of the chief editors of the The Washington Post, is determined that there is more to the story, and it should be his paper that uncovers the whole truth.
The paper is facing a tough time in the wake of the Vietnam War. It’s 1971 and publisher Katharine “Kay” Graham (Streep) is faced with having to take the company public in the wake of the newspaper potentially going broke. She’s the company’s first female publisher after her husband and father previously ran it. Her gender alone makes her a scapegoat and the target of the men around her who are hesitant to trust anything she sets out to accomplish. Ben pushes her to get information from her good friend Robert McNamara (Greenwood) who has inside knowledge of the situation. As excerpts start to leak, President Nixon wages war against the media. Ben becomes adamant that the Post needs to be the one to publish the findings. Timing becomes everything in order for them to vet their sources and convince Kay that this is the direction the paper needs to take before other outlets break the story. It’s not an easy choice for her, as it potentially jeopardizes everything the paper once stood for if anything goes wrong.
If his other films had more abstract parallels to draw, then The Post is one of Spielberg’s most blatant films in recent years. Despite it being set against the Nixon White House, it’s pointedly made to showcase how we’re facing this all over again with the topics of freedom of the press, feminism, and the Trump Administration’s negative rhetoric against the media. He makes use of real audio of Nixon in the White House proclaiming his war against certain media outlets, which eerily mimics many of Trump’s similar remarks.
The movie was rushed into production when Spielberg read the script by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer (Spotlight). He saw the importance behind the piece and felt the call as an artist to bring it to fruition. He was in the middle of post-production on Ready Player One, and took a break to shoot this for a timely release. The pressure he placed on himself parallels the pressure the journalists felt to get their story published. He, in turn, clips the movie along quickly making you feel their deadline that’s looming on the horizon. He’s aided in this with a pulsating score from his longtime collaborator, John Williams.
Spielberg has enlisted a sharp cast led by heavyweights Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. You could claim they’re reliable choices, but you need two of the best actors to bring out the power and prestige Graham and Bradlee had in their positions. Just when you think you’ve seen everything from Meryl Streep, she offers up this performance as Katharine Graham making it her best since The Devil Wears Prada. She strips away any sort of “transformation” choice she’s typically known for and utilizes a variety of subtle physical choices to bring out the vulnerable, and oftentimes, unsure of herself aspects of Graham. It’s a treat to see Streep play someone who fights to try to remain in control with the tower of men around her hoping to bring her down. Hanks is exceptional as Ben Bradlee. I never get sick of seeing him in in the hero role. He’s pointed and driven to bring the truth out, and Hanks sneaks in the firecracker side of him to add a bit of that cackling humor Bradlee has when he’s right about something. They’re joined by a who’s who of TV’s top tier actors with Bradley Whitford (The West Wing), Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul), Matthew Rhys (The Americans), Carrie Coon (Fargo), and Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story), just to name a few, each of them also getting their moment to shine.
If a historical drama is done well, it makes you want to dive in and do some research on the subjects. I felt that way with The Post, and immediately went home to do a quick flip through Katharine Graham’s memoir “Personal History” and checked what Benjamin Bradlee books could be ordered off Amazon. The ending of The Post transitions into the events that open 1976’s All the President’s Men, which works as a great companion piece to this film. Spielberg oftentimes gets flack for his endings, but I think his choice here reflects that realization that the scandals in the Nixon White House had only just begun.
The Post may feel topical enraging us along the way, but it’s more than a quick fight against the Presidents of then and now. Bradlee and Graham hold steady that the truth should be told no matter the cost. Despite being the publisher, Graham faced extreme pressure and fought her way to be taken seriously in a male-driven field. It’s a reminder of the power of the newspaper and the teamwork and collaboration it takes to get a story to print. Spielberg shows us a printing press in action with the manpower it took to run a paper long before we became a 24/7 news cycle when stories can get published online within a matter of minutes. It’s a shame to think that physical newspapers are slowly becoming obsolete.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? Spielberg and his top-notch cast are firing on all cylinders delivering a topical and well-crafted film.
RATING: 5 out of 5 TICKET STUBS