Movie Review – The Post
Review by Paul Preston
Not a lot of movies are vital. The Post is.
Among the myriad of hard-to-keep-up-with, hope-crushing actions taken by President Trump since he took office is the attempt to dismantle the free press. It is the sure-fire move of a dictator to limit the truth from the citizens and quiet voices that counter his own. It’s an action that flies in the face of The Constitution of the United States and is wholly unhealthy for democracy. Yet, Trump is not the first U.S. president to attempt to silence the press.
The Post tells one of the many stories behind The Pentagon Papers, a series of documents stolen from the files of Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s office and made public, exposing the lies The United States had been telling for years to justify the war which killed 58,000+ American troops. It seems America “winning” was more important than the dead soldiers, and the truth. Once an injunction is put on The New York Times’ attempt to expose the papers, The Washington Post gets its own scoop on obtaining the full documents and the debate begins as to whether they should publish or not.
About that other president who attempted to silence the press? None other than Richard Nixon, who used political and legal leverage to stop The Post from exposing government lies and secrets. Fighting to print was legendary editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and Post president Catherine “Kay” Graham (Meryl Streep), who has a concurrent plotline involving her inheriting The Post after her husband passes away and having to fight a horde of condescending Mad Men-era suits to make decisions and be heard. Both storylines are a fiery hot topic of relevance today. You’d think we’d learn something in forty-five years.
The talent on display in The Post is impressive. To see them firing on all cylinders like this is just glorious.
I’ve said before that every movie Meryl Streep makes, you need to go. To be living in the time of the greatest film actress of all time and not see all of her works would be a dubious misstep. It’d be like kicking around England in 1592 and not going to that Shakespeare play. Don’t be that guy. Near the end of The Post, Streep and Hanks share a few scenes together (nothing new, they share scenes throughout the movie), but it was towards the end where I could let the tension of the film subside enough to settle into my seat and enjoy two true legends of film and admired their authenticity. They’re just iconic and Hanks continues to prove he can play anything. His Bradlee is a BULL, with a take-charge attitude and frustration at being one-upped by competing newspapers that Hanks embodies right down to his forceful walk.
The supporting cast is full of talent. I especially liked Tracy Letts, following up a great performance in Lady Bird, as Fritz Beebe, lawyer and confidant to Kay Graham, and Bob Odenkirk as Ben Bagdikian, hard-scramble Post reporter who follows a lead to bring the leaked papers to The Post. His whole story could be a movie unto itself and Odenkirk brings leading man effort to the part. Bagdikian’s a guy you can really get behind and it’s fun to watch him work.
Director Steven Spielberg wisely avoids “helping up” the picture. His directorial style here isn’t as pared down as it was for the likes of Saving Private Ryan, but it’s also not as melodramatic as in parts of Amistad. He strikes the right middle ground tone, delivering a brashly cinematic film that supports but never gets in the way of the fast-moving and high-stakes story. His oft-used supporting staff is in fine form – composer John Williams, DP Janusz Kaminski, editor Michael Kahn (with Sarah Broshar) and Production Designer Rick Carter, whose re-creation of place and time is great and the mammoth machines that create these papers look like monolith gods. Special shout-out to Christen Edwards, Gary English, Liz Reilly and Adenike Wright of the hair department, because this movie is FULL of wonderfully AWFUL 1970s hair.
Say what you will about TV news. It’s either entertainment or pushing an agenda, but print press must be defended. Screenwriter Josh Singer of Spotlight clearly has a thing, but his thing is delivered here with more panache and humor then that previous Best Picture winnere. He gets the importance of the truth-seeking news teams that have changed the country for the better. Anyone who doesn’t, clearly is hiding something.
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Release Date: January 12, 2018
Run Time: 115 Minutes
Distributor: 20th Century Fox/DreamWorks Pictures