If you sent out a search team, complete with a master tracker and hunting dogs, you could not have tripped over a story as divisively timely as the one Steven Spielberg delivers with panache in The Post. The first female publisher, striving to excel in a male-dominated industry, faced with running a story the President of the United States himself wants squashed immediately, even as he cries fowl of the press themselves. Yea, seems familiar.
There is little fluff in The Post as we hit the ground running. Learning that several U.S. Presidents have remained complicit in covering up the tangible truths revolving around our ability to “win” the Vietnam War, an insider copies numerous “top secret” documents and forwards them to the New York Times for publication. For those too young to fathom the implication, it was the Edward Snowden situation of its day.
When the U.S. Government takes the issue to court, a federal judge blocks publication of these facts, claiming it would put military operations and men at risk. The Times halts publication, which triggers the insider to take these documents to the Washington Post news department, run by storied editor, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks).
With a federal block and the POTUS watching, will the Washington Post stand for truth and freedom? Or will they coddle the will of a power-hungry administration bent on controlling the realities of the day? That decision ultimately falls to Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep), who assumed the reins of the company after her husband’s suicide. Engulfed in the business for her entire life, yet lacking the confidence necessary to run it, Kay is given a trial-by-fire. Those who know history, know where this leads. Those who don’t, are in for a treat.
Steven Spielberg rarely commits a cinematic misstep, and he doesn’t start here, perfectly capturing the look and feel of the era. From the opening frame, he sets the tone that his film is telling a story, not selling a message. I was rightfully concerned that the entirety of The Post would devolve into a political movement for one side of the aisle. A persecution of sorts for our current administration by the Hollywood elite, as the parallels are uncanny in many respects. That said, audiences often come from many facets in life, and Spielberg’s take serves us all.
The greatest strength contained within The Post is the fact that it refuses to grab a pulpit and preach to the choir. Instead, Spielberg allows the details to play out and affords us in the cheap seats the ability to discern our own conclusions or allegories. The biggest surprise of the entire film is just how even keel it truly is.
Actors rarely come with this level of pedigree – Bob Odenkirk, Bradley Whitford, Allison Brie, Sarah Paulson – but the two obvious standouts are the Mount Rushmore of leads in Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. My guess is craft services simply handed out Oscars at lunch to save time.
To be honest though, while his take on Ben Bradlee was good, it wasn’t TOM HANKS good. There were several moments where Hanks’ emphasis on impersonation over characterization removed us from the scene due to his Costneresque ability to forget which accent he was intending to display. Unlike Costner, though, that loss of self does not lead to a negative impact on the moment, but rather a randomly rare distraction easily forgotten.
Meryl Streep, on the other hand, demonstrates yet again why she is the greatest actor of our time. Timid, doubtful, reluctant, vibrant, motherly, genuine, determined, fierce. These are the gamut of emotions Meryl drops on a dime as she brings Kay Graham vividly to life. Streep holds the pulse of The Post firmly in her grasp for the entirety of the runtime, with every other actor pulling no punches in their efforts to maintain her breakneck stride.
Leery of a political cine-speech on the state of modern politics, The Post instead tells us a tale of feminine empowerment, pursuit of the truth, and why freedom of the press is one of the most valuable assets of our democracy. While not a rival to the stellar excellence that was All the President’s Men, this remains a story every American should make time to completely comprehend.
Because as it turns out, those who do not learn history are, quite literally, doomed to repeat it.
Starring Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Bob Odenkirk, Bradley Whitford
Screenplay by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer
Directed by Steven Spielberg