These days the words, “The Post” are more likely to get you thinking about a blog then a newspaper. In fact, Steven Spielberg’s latest film, The Post is all about history and a bygone era in print journalism. It’s a historic thriller and bio-pic that looks at how The Washington Post handled the decision to cover the Pentagon Papers. The result is a tense and mostly rewarding story that seems more relevant than ever in this era of President Trump and the proliferation of online fake news.
The year is 1971 and The New York Times and specifically journalist, Neil Sheehan are on the verge of a major scoop. A former Defence employee-turned-whistle-blower named, Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) is in possession of thousands of top-secret papers that were a study into the Vietnam War. Their contents are damning of the U.S. government and prove that four presidents have lied to the public with respect to the reasons why America went to war in the first place. These Pentagon Papers also reveal that while many of the key players were positive and optimistic about the war in the public domain; privately, they knew they were fighting a losing battle.
This film could have focused on the efforts made by The New York Times with respect to this historic event because they were the ones that published the material first and they get short-changed here. They were also slapped with an injunction by the Attorney General at the time, John Mitchell. Instead, The Post’s scriptwriters including newcomer, Liz Hannah and Josh Singer (who co-wrote the Oscar-winning investigative drama, Spotlight) focus on what was transpiring over at the offices of The Washington Post. At the time, the publication was not considered a high-tier newspaper even though the public held a lot of trust in print media. They were initially behind the eight-ball with respect to this story, but they made up for it with what happened next.
Meryl Streep stars as Katharine Graham, the first woman to go on and become a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. When we meet her here she is a widowed socialite who has found herself in the role of publisher and head of The Washington Post. It was her father’s business initially and then her husband’s before he committed suicide. The film looks at Graham’s rise from a shy and fledgling businesswoman who was overrun by business and legal advisors in the board room to an empowered and formidable force calling the shots at her own company.
Tom Hanks plays Ben Bradlee, the editor at the Post. Bradlee was famously depicted by Jason Robards in All The President’s Men which was about the Watergate scandal (a story that the Post did break and which is signposted in Spielberg’s film at the very end.) In The Post, the proceedings examine the media’s tight-rope act between the public’s right to know and the implications of covering classified material (for example: treason, jail, court hearings, etc.) To further complicate things, The Post is on the verge of being publicly floated and investors also have their own self-interests in what is being published.
The Post features some fabulous performances and it bubbles along with an underlying tension that encapsulates the gravity of the story. This is risky business of the highest command, but it was also an important chapter in history. It is also a story that is still pertinent, perhaps even more so in the current political climate even if Spielberg may be slightly overplaying Graham’s role as a trailblazer. The film is a good one that takes in quite a complex story but it isn’t immune to feeling a tad self-congratulatory at moments (especially when Streep is so “highly” praised on the steps of the Supreme Court by a gaggle of supporters.)
The Post is not a classic film but there is no denying that it is an important, historic story. It’s a tense and dramatic tale for those who were fans of Spotlight and who enjoy dialogue-heavy dramas with plenty of political power-plays to boot. The Post is a good examination of ethics, politics and conflict and could very well galvanise people to get up and take a stand against the tyrannical Trump. At the very least, The Post offers the blueprint for a David and Goliath quest to expose the actual truth.
Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Post is in cinemas from 11th January 2018