UNIVERSAL PICTURES (2018)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Rhys, Alison Brie, Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons, Michael Stuhlbarg
Not quite. Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of The Post centres on the publication of the Pentagon Papers – the classified documents detailing America’s decades-long deception to the public regarding the Vietnam War – by the Washington Post and the New York Times. With Hollywood titans Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks (just the seven Oscars and twenty-four nominations between them) sharing the screen for the first time and a superb supporting cast, the headlines were seemingly written for glory.
Almost, but not quite.
The Vietnam War was a lost cause for a long, long time and the US was running covert military and political activities despite publically stating the opposite. Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson knew it and still danced with the facade. This was huge stuff. It became even bigger when whistleblower and former military analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Rhys) leaked thousands of pages of documents to the New York Times blowing the lid off of the cover-up and scandals the US Government spent two decades sweeping under the carpet.
Ben Bradlee (Hanks), editor in chief at the Washington Post, realises the enormity of these revelations and wants in – this is the chance to elevate the Post from local paper to national outlet. Head of the Post, Kay Graham (Streep), is busily preparing to take the company Public amidst fears of her family losing power within their own company and the constant domineering attitudes of male colleagues. With her company on the line and the reputations of long-time friends and confidantes (some of which are directly involved within the scandals), Graham must decide whether the Post should jump in with the Freedom of Speech rebellion that’s beginning or quietly shy away and risk the integrity and honesty of the paper.
The Post is remarkable for the fact it’s the first collaboration between Spielberg, Streep and Hanks (not forgetting the maestro, John Williams), which is fairly surprising given the lengths of their respective careers and the quality of their works. Alas, the moment finally arrived.
The movie is a timely reminder to the public that freedom of the press is ridiculously important, not for those who govern but for those who are governed, as The Post tells us. Imagine having a lunatic President that tried to cover up and silence anyone with opposing views or opinions – it just couldn’t happen nowadays...could it? The exposure of the Pentagon Papers was a watershed moment for publishing and journalism and was the first marker in the sand that separated the people at the top from the newspapers who they had courted so lavishly for so long. Whilst the New York Times blew the lid off the cover-up, The Post focuses on events from the perspective of the Washington Post, and specifically Kay Graham’s. There are multi-directional narratives and it’s told with a confidence that Spielberg can effortlessly wield, but it’s also fairly straight-forward and devoid of real drive (save for a few terrific moments)
To get the obvious out of the way, Hanks and Streep are superb in their roles. Hanks as the brash, passionate Bradlee and Streep leading as Kay Graham – a woman conflicted, racked with self-doubt but with a hidden steel running through her. Their scenes together are gold and it’s unsurprising to report that both are excellent. The supporting ensemble is simply there to do just that, but contributions from Brie, Coon, Rhys and Greenwood provide solid foundations for the two leads to build upon.
It’s a practical looking movie, the eras are recreated well but there’s no need for visual mastery here, the message – or more to the point, warning – is in the story. At times, it’s overly expository and can jump about a bit too much, but it never feels muddled if you’re paying attention. Spielberg doesn’t seem to be preaching or wanting to leave an eternal imprint upon the viewer, instead opting for a more functional, and unspectacular, approach. The use of genuine conversations had by Richard Nixon does add a menacing layer to the movie, however, the then-President acting as an unseen antagonist looming over every action and decision.
The movies better moments surround Kay Graham and the mounting pressure and decisions that fall her way. The ear-whispering from assertive male colleagues to not publish the bombshell papers – for fear of reprisal against them, more than anything – to the fear of failing her family, her arc is satisfyingly and attentively covered in its execution. The question of whether the paper will run with the story also provides the highlight of the movie. The remainder of the story isn’t anything bad, but these moments are where The Post elevates itself.
Confident and strong, The Post succeeds with its efficient approach to telling its story. It’s not a remarkable movie, not one that will stay with you for long after viewing but it’s an extremely timely movie that's message is one that people would do well to heed. Streep and Hanks are great, Spielberg’s direction is once-more extremely good and let’s not forget another excellent score from John Williams – though once it’s all over, The Post is simply a good movie with some great components.
January 15th 2018