Synopsis – A cover-up that spanned four U.S. Presidents pushed the country’s first female newspaper publisher and a hard-driving editor to join an unprecedented battle between the press and the government.
My Take – There is no denying that director Steven Spielberg is one of the greatest American filmmakers ever, and probably the only who could assembled Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, and writers Liz Hannah and Josh Singer for a film, that is not just a worthy but also a timely and weighty admission into the journalistic drama sub-genre. In a time where a questionably insane man has been given power to hold the office of President of the United States, who along with his usual childish antics has also declared war on all forms of media that does support or criticize him and his administration and seeks to turn America into a corporate theocracy, a free press is needed more than ever before. This film, releasing around 41 years after 1976’s All The President’s Men, provides us an insight into the courageous & rousing true-story of the quest of The Washington Post, a then small publishing station, who used the power of freedom of speech and went against the administration of president Richard Nixon and exposed shocking behind the scene truths. As a sucker for films on journalism, I must say it’s pretty good and as the film does work delightfully in relating a complex political issue to the audience in a way that makes common sense. Sure, there are a lot of names thrown around, names this generation has probably never heard about, but with the core story on track, a general audience can easily grasp. For those who thought, the failure of 2016’s The BFG would end director Spielberg‘s reign, I must state that with this film he returns to top-form with near perfection. Set in the 1970s, the film retells the story of how the Washington Post went head-to-head with the Nixon administration over the release of the Pentagon Papers – a Department of Defense study that proved the U.S. Government lied to both the public and Congress about the Vietnam War.
The story follows Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), the owner of the Washington Post, a respected but rather small and ‘local’ liberal newspaper, which has been running for a long time as a family business. Inadvertently inheriting from her late husband and father, as the first female newspaper publisher, a job that she didn’t really want with men around her who don’t take kindly of a woman being their superior, Graham finds herself in a tricky position, when her fiery editor-in-chief, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), in a desperate attempt to take The Washington Post into the big leagues, wants to follow Abe Rosenthal (Michael Stuhlbarg), the sly editor of The New York Times in publishing a copy of the Pentagon Papers in their newspaper’s front page. Worried about her friendship with Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood), the mastermind of the Vietnam War, and the reaction of the investors, as the firm is about to be listed on New York Stock Exchange, Kay Graham must take an ultimate decision, which may affect the lives of her employee as well as her children. This is a fast-moving film that, which just under two-hours, covers weeks of back-and-forth conversations and research and a back story we may never completely know or understand. Does it really matter here? No. This is a great film, and entertaining film that depicts how The Washington Post played a strategic role in one of the biggest news stories in the 1970’s, and earned itself acclaim as an important national newspaper. The film is thoroughly gripping, although it sometimes feels paced slightly clumsily through omissions of details that could have been better to include as Spielberg presents the audience with the turbulent politics of the Vietnam era that lead to the intense legal and ideological controversies surrounding the Pentagon Papers. Additionally, a rushed, albeit still very enjoyable, the third act makes the viewer feel that the film’s running time is a bit too short. Yet, the film is an enjoyable watch in a way that other journalism films like All The President’s Men and Spotlight, while better films overall for sure, are not, but its tone is handled well throughout. If director Spielberg‘s dramas have taught me one thing, it’s that he clearly knows how to let a specific tone manifest itself throughout the course of a narrative and do that well. There are times when the script gets a little preachy, but that’s probably because it’s meant to be. It’s all done in vivid colors, because there’s nothing subtle about our First Amendment rights and freedoms. Not back then, and certainly not now. In the hands of a lesser director than Steven Spielberg, the first act of the film would have been an interminable slog. It’s hard to conjure up tension when the narrative isn’t being very cooperative – which it isn’t, because, in reality, it was actually The New York Times that spent months cracking the biggest story of the year. For much of its first half, the film tries to find drama where there isn’t very much of it on hand. The most subterfuge we see is Ben’s decision to send an intern to infiltrate The Times to find out why his rival’s top reporter hasn’t published a story in months and we watch as the team of The Washington Post go at it to uncover & publish the truth, which will you engrossed & captivated.
But director Spielberg is nothing if not a master craftsman, and he uses the quieter moments at the start of the film to establish and explore character. We bear witness to the way in which Kay is routinely dismissed, as a person and a voice, by all the men who sit on the board of her own company. We laugh as Ben takes a stand against the White House, even on an issue as trivial as The Washington Post being barred from reporting on the marriage of President Nixon’s daughter. We watch Kay and Ben interact – the former worrying about the bottom line, as the latter defends the paper’s headlines. This film is also very relevant to our current time due to the fact that it focuses on freedom of the press and the truth. Of course back in the late 1960’s newspapers were our main source of news , unlike today with the internet and public media revolution, as abundant as sources are in our present day, accusations of many sources are thrown around all over claiming that they’re “fake sources” or “fake news”. How does the government presented in this film react to news sources exposing the truth? They threaten to send them all to prison. Back in the time, in retaliation, The Washington Post obtains multiple files of government secrets and posts them in their newspaper, which grabs the attention of the public’s eye and other news sources. With how the government is operating, it is likely that history would repeat itself, so this film came out in a very timely manner. As put in the very competent hands of director Steven Spielberg, the film is a taught thriller that unspools the action in a very professional way, spoon feeding the audience the information they need when they need it. He shows the hustle and bustle of a 1970’s newspaper newsroom – something that (probably) belongs in a museum nowadays. It is a fascinating look at a bygone era. The power of the press (especially newspapers) were at the fore, with men leading the way, and that’s another point that director Spielberg drives home – the growing importance of women in the mostly male world of the time. Mostly filmed in the compact newsroom presenting itself as a bustling arena during a sporting event – director Spielberg still manages to steer his camera through people rushing to get the deadline finished. But his technique doesn’t just apply here his directing is masterful throughout steadily moving his camera through darkly lit rooms, leaving no prop, no corner or a room untouched. As I mentioned earlier, director Spielberg has also assembled a great cast here, led by Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. At this point in their careers, Streep and Hanks are completely incapable of delivering a bad performance hence they are eminently watchable here, and share an electric chemistry which you might come to expect from this two juggernauts as they push each other to their limits. Here, Streep is wonderfully restrained in her portrayal of a woman facing chauvinism, despite being in power, she sinks her teeth into the part & brings it out with flying colors. While, Hanks is flat-out-fabulous, enacting the part of a man in search of exposing the truth and is heroic all through. The film is also filled with a strong supporting cast, led by Bob Odenkirk, who is every bit as compelling as the major stars, while Sarah Paulson is onscreen only briefly as Bradlee’s wife Toni, she gives a key speech where she articulates for Bradlee, and the viewer, about exactly how heroic Graham is being. Meanwhile, Alison Brie, Bradley Whitford, Tracy Letts, Bruce Greenwood, Carrie Coon, Zach Woods, Matthew Rhys, David Cross, Pat Healy, Michael Stuhlbarg and Jesse Plemons stand out in their important roles. On the whole, ‘The Post’ is a well-made timely political drama, that albeit its strong theme, never forgets to entertain.
Directed – Steven Spielberg
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 116 minutes