THE POST – Review
In THE POST, director Steven Spielberg delivers a remarkable and timely film about freedom of the press, a story set in 1971 that has striking echoes for the present. President Nixon, who disdains the press, seeks to prevent publication of embarrassing secret government documents that expose decades of deceit of the American people on the Vietnam War.
Spielberg structures THE POST like a thriller, racing a ticking-clock and filled with intrigue. The director has put together a stellar cast for this top-notch thriller, led by Tom Hanks as Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee and Meryl Streep as the paper’s publisher Katharine Graham, the first women publisher of a major daily newspaper. Known as the Pentagon Papers, a portion of this trove of documents has already been published by the New York Times, but that paper has been stopped by a court order. When the documents come to Graham and Bradlee, they are faced with the choice: publish and risk the paper, maybe even jail, or let the President silence the free press and conceal the facts from the American people.
Comparisons to ALL THE PRESIDENTS MEN is inevitable, and this is a worthy film to pair with that classic, but this is the story that preceded Watergate, and without which Watergate would not have happened. But this gripping fast-paced thriller also has elements in common with THE FRONT PAGE and other classic newspaper tales.
The First Amendment is not the only focus on this excellent, intelligent drama, which is one of the year’s best, but spotlights the challenges faced by publisher Katherine Graham, in the patriarchal 1970s, after she inherited the newspaper once owned by her father and then run by her late husband.
Streep is wonderful as Graham, who is determined to keep the paper her father built going and vital. She is always determined to do that but her demeanor seems to say otherwise, typical of a woman of her era. She starts out hesitant to challenge the condescension often shown by men who are supposed to advise her but increasingly finds steel to do so, in one scene reminding Robert McNamara that she is seeking his advice, not his permission.
The one exception is Bradlee. Hanks’ Bradlee is gruff and blunt in his dealings with everyone, including his boss Graham, and a sharp contrast to her diplomatic style of speech. But in the end, he always recognizes that it is her decision to publish or not. Bradlee is the bulldog pursing this story, a scoop that could put the paper on the map nationally, and clearly enjoys the fray. His scenes are built around this pursuit, which unfold with the urgency and excitement of a spy or political thriller.
The film is packed with the giant figures, good and bad, of this historic moment, when the press stood up for the people’s right to know in the face of a hostile government, eager to keep embarrassing truths hidden. The clip of Nixon speaking about the Pentagon Papers is Nixon’s actual voice, which adds to the drama and realism. Scenes of the running press add both a sense of the time period and twinge of nostalgia for an era of paper and ink.
The whole ensemble cast is wonderful, as is the pacing and photography, particularly the evocative images of rolling presses. Modern audiences may be taken aback at the easy sexism that Streep’s Graham faces in nearly every scene, and impressed with the easy grace with which she handles it. The scenes between Streep as the elegant Graham and Hanks as the hard-nosed Bradlee as pure acting gold, but the whole film is sprinkled with such gems.
THE POST is one of the best films of the past year, an essential must-see, and a worthy companion piece to ALL THE KINGS MEN on the free press, but this gripping thriller has as much to say about present days as the historical moment in which it is set.
RATING: 5 out of 5 stars