Movie Review: ‘The Post’ aptly reflects 2017
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Liz Hannah, Josh Singer
Stars: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts
Synopsis: A cover-up that spanned four U.S. Presidents pushed the country’s first female newspaper publisher and a hard-driving editor to join an unprecedented battle between journalist and government.
The first thought I had when I walked out of Steven Spielberg’s The Post wasn’t even about its quality, but rather how aptly it defines 2017 politically. The timeliness of this film will supplant it historically as one of the more important films of the year, regardless of how many awards it wins or doesn’t win. However, it doesn’t hurt that The Post is a significant step up from The BFG and arguably Bridge of Spies as well.
The script by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer isn’t concerned with deeply nuanced characters, as much as it is with deeply nuanced ideas and the important questions they provoke. As a result, The Post is a hard left turn from being a character driven experience à la Lincoln and instead it’s a riveting thriller that is driven by gripping plot mechanics and incisive direction. There’s an energy that Spielberg brings to this film that offers weight to the dramatic tension at play, and somehow Spielberg makes it feel graceful and effortless in how he highlights the immediacy of the media vs the government that is the backbone of this story. In turn, the questions that this film evokes become viscerally self-aware of how the events depicted here mirror that of our current political arena.
The Post centers itself of Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), who became the first female publisher of a major American Newspaper – The Washing Post – after her husband’s untimely death in the early 70’s. She’s very shy and timid, but doing her best to keep her family’s legacy alive and thriving. The paper’s editor Ben Bradly (Tom Hanks) is the antithesis to Kay in that he’s very confident, decisive and understands that getting there first is important. So, when he and his team come into possession of what became known as the Pentagon Papers, things heat up real fast. These papers reveal hundreds of government secrets around the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War and the politicians involved. In an effort to suffocate the media’s attempt at revealing this information, Richard Nixon has threatened legal time over any newspaper outlet that publishes these documents. From there, Kay and Ben have to decipher their obligations to the public and the ramifications that may come as a result.
On the surface, Meryl Streep’s performance could come off as easy-going and simple, but I’d argue it’s much more than that. In fact, it’s better than some of her most recent Oscar-nominated performances. While the script does a pretty good job of giving perspective to Kay and why she wasn’t a conventional CEO, it’s Streep who gives weight to her timidness in how she taps into that shy behavior. Kay understands that she isn’t the most qualified to be in her position, but even more so she is fully aware of the stakes at play, that people could lose their jobs, her family’s legacy could be tarnished and she could even go to jail herself if she publishes. And yet, it’s fascinating to see Kay overcome these emotional restraints in order to change history in the way she does. There’s a subtle evolution that Steep portrays in Kay that dramatically feels earned in the conviction that is ultimately there by the end. There’s nothing flashy about it. There’s no catharsis or “Oscar-y” kinds of moments. But that progression of insecurity to confidence is remarkable.
Tom Hanks is also very good, especially in how we see Bradley embrace the film’s ideas of journalistic integrity. Hannah and Singer’s script deeply roots itself in asking questions around integrity and why maintaining that matters as the risks amplify and the consequences become real. And it’s captivating to see how integrity and morality become blurred in Bradley’s urgency to release these documents to the public, something that Hanks emulates very well in his performance.
While Hanks and Streep carry The Post in great ways, other supporting players such as Bob Odenkirk, Bradley Whitford, Tracy Letts and Sarah Paulson are also great in their small parts as well.
The Post doesn’t concern itself with everyday journalism like All the President’s Men, but instead Spielberg focuses on the broader meanings of what’s at stake with this story. It’s all about the fight for freedom of speech, especially when the government is wanting to suppress that freedom, and why a woman at the helm makes it even more compelling. Spielberg puts all of his attention into the pacing of the film, the editing and building tension in order to make that fight feel attainable.
The Post may not be top tier Spielberg, but it’s a far cry from being mediocre Spielberg. The film has a lot to offer in terms of cinema, but perhaps even more to offer in highlighting the viscous cycle of government lies and why the media unraveling those lies keeps things in balance. In many ways, The Post will be the film that defines 2017 when it’s all said and done.
Overall Grade: B+
Hear our podcast review on Episode 251: