Movie Review: ‘The Post’ is Spielberg’s Best Film in Years
When the New York Times first published portions of the Pentagon Papers 1971 - a classified study that revealed that the US government had been lying about their actions in Southeast Asia before and during the Vietnam War - President Richard Nixon immediately obtained a federal injunction to prevent them from publishing any more.
As the Times appealed the court decision, in a court case that would have significant impact on free press in the USA, The Washington Post also obtained portions of the Pentagon Papers. To print them would be to stand up for the freedom of press, show solidarity with the Times, and deliver vital information to the American public.
But it would also risk the future of the company: fighting the US government in court would be costly, and investors in a company that was just about to go public were already getting antsy.
Steven Spielberg’s The Post, which is almost a prequel to the events of the journalism classic All the President’s Men, presents the newspaper’s struggle
For many at the Washington Post, printing the Pentagon Papers is almost a moral obligation: when editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) gets ahold of them through a contact from reporter Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk), his beeline towards publication involves a team of reporters working round the clock from his own living room.
But for the Washington Post owner Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), the practical implications of printing the Papers become an internal struggle. Graham inherited the company from her husband and, at the time, wasn’t taken seriously as the paper’s head; the decision would be hers to make, and define not only the paper but herself.
The dynamic between Bradlee and Graham is what drives the film, and Hanks and Streep deliver the kind of note-perfect performances we’ve come to expect from them. An excellent supporting cast (Sarah Paulson as Bradlee’s wife, Alison Brie as Graham’s daughter, and Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, David Cross and numerous others as Post employees) backs them up at every step along the way.
The Post is a breathless account of this story from screenwriters Liz Hannah and Josh Singer (who also co-wrote the similarly-themed Spotlight), vividly brought to life by its director, who filmed and edited it in mere months. Given the relationship between the current White House and The Washington Post, the story presented here couldn’t be more timely.
Despite Spielberg’s sometimes-maudlin tendencies, The Post is mostly a fact-based account of the events that turns thrilling precisely because of the lack of filmmaking invention. The real-world stakes of this movie are far more relatable than anything a screenwriter could have come up with.
Only did one moment ring somewhat false to me: a heartstring-tugging scene where Streep’s Graham descends courtroom steps in front of a crowd of woman. It’s a timely and even effective sequence, but one that feels Spielberg-saccharine.
In movies about journalists covering important stories, I almost always come away feeling I’d rather be watching a movie about the important story rather than the journalists covering it. Not so here: important as they are, the Pentagon Papers are a MacGuffin in The Post, with the real stakes taking place in the newsroom. Along with Spotlight and All the President’s Men, this is one of the best movies about journalists ever made.