The Verse’s Oliver Pendlington reviews American political thriller, The Post.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenplay: Liz Hannah and Josh Singer
Stars: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracey Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Rhys, Alison Brie and Carrie Coon
Story: In 1971, classified documents of the USA’s involvement in the Vietnam War are leaked to the press. Despite huge resistance from the Nixon administration, Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham (Streep) and editor Ben Bradlee (Hanks) endeavour to publish the ‘Pentagon Papers’.
While more famous for its exposure of the 1972 Watergate scandal, which led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon, The Washington Post had already fuelled hostility against the US government for its publishing of the ‘Pentagon Papers’ a year before. Spanning from 1945 to 1967 under four US presidents, these documents reported on the number of soldiers the government kept sending to Vietnam, even though they knew it was a war they couldn’t win. And while it was The New York Times that revealed the information first, Steven Spielberg’s latest film concentrates on the efforts of the eponymous Post to publish the findings further and the fierce conflict they endured against Nixon’s government as a result.
In today’s current climate of fake news and government oppression on freedom of speech, The Post couldn’t have been more timely. Thanks to a tautly-written screenplay by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, it sings the praises of investigative journalism and how well-researched findings from a group of remarkable people act as our source of truth to the world. Ever the visionary he is, Spielberg injects his own distinctive panache into this potent story. He had already proven he could tackle period pieces well with his Cold War thriller Bridge of Spies and he does so again here. The early 1970s is nailed down from the attire and hairstyle to the muted grey décor of the Post’s newsroom, all shot with a brittle urgent edge from regular Spielberg cinematographer Janusz Kami?ski.
Of course, it is the two excellent leads that are the film’s masterstroke. Both Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks rank among the world’s greatest actors and the sparring between their characters and their different views of the inevitable consequences of their actions amounts to the film’s greatest scenes. Streep, in particular, excels as Katherine Graham, the USA’s first female publisher committed to both preserving her paper’s future and doing what’s right for everyone. Her inner conflicts of being thrust into a prominent position in a male-dominated world bring to light the current gender equality problems all industries are facing today. Opposite her, Hanks masterfully portrays editor Ben Bradlee with a strong integrity and determination to ensure the public knows the truth, even if it means being imprisoned for it. And while rather overshadowed by the two leads, the stellar supporting cast more than show their A-game talent, Bob Odenkirk and Carrie Coon especially standing out.
The only place where The Post falters is how it stands against those other two masterpieces of investigative journalism: All the President’s Men (which covered the Post’s reporting of Watergate and had Jason Robards portraying Bradlee) and Spotlight. The former excelled with its thrillingly gripping pace while the latter had a powerful emotional drive that respected its sensitive issue. Despite its best efforts, The Post doesn’t quite match the compelling assets that made those two films stand out. But this is not a bad thing as on its own, it is top quality filmmaking strongly relevant to today’s world.
Featured image courtesy of 20th Century Fox