The Post movie review: Steven Spielberg has made one of the bravest films of our times. 5 stars
Director - Steven Spielberg
Cast - Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Bob Odenkirk, Sarah Paulson, Bradley Whitford, Matthew Rhys
Rating - 5/5
Freedom of the Press, if it means anything at all, means the freedom to criticize and oppose.
- George Orwell
A newsroom can be an intoxicating place to be in. On certain days, tickets could be sold to the public for them to experience the electricity that surges through its coldly lit paths. Huddles form at every clearing, every desk becomes a meeting room, and the Editor-in-Chief’s cabin takes on the appearance of a government office in a small town, with harried reporters and editors barging in and out. A newsroom is no place for manners.
In this regard, Steven Spielberg’s new movie, The Post, is a documentary. It is also a euphoric, angry, and shamelessly sentimental film – the sort that only Steven Spielberg can make. When everything is said and done, and whether or not any impeachments, assassinations or resignations happen, it will be seen as one of the most important films of our times.
It tells the story of the Washington Post’s race against time to release damning secret documents that proved the American government had been lying to its people about the Vietnam War, while an unprecedented battle wages on between the Nixon administration and the Ben Bradlee-led Post. The President had already shut down the New York Times’ efforts to publish the sensitive documents – it was the first time in history that the government had refused to allow a newspaper to report on a story of such magnitude – and Bradlee and his publisher (Katharine Graham) saw this an opportunity to let the world know that the Post wasn’t in the business of reading the news, but reporting the news.
Faced with insurmountable odds, and against the advice of an army of very expensive lawyers, they pushed ahead. Their reputations, the legacy of the Washington Post, and possible jail time was at risk; but the country’s future was at stake.
Like its two protagonists, The Post is a brave movie – perhaps even braver than its biggest inspiration, All the President’s Men. That film, which has developed an unchallenged reputation as the seminal film about journalism, was only released years after Richard Nixon – who in the Post, is depicted almost as a Bond villain, lurking in his sinister lair – had resigned. The current President is still in office.
And as played by Tom Hanks, Bradlee is just what an adversary and an editor should be – decisive, inspirational, and – as he’d like to believe – brave. The sort of unstoppable idealism that he displays is almost impossible to find anymore, regardless of what the story is. In an early scene, he refuses the White House’s demand to assign a different reporter from the usual one to cover the President’s daughter’s wedding. He could simply have agreed and avoided the trouble, but in one of the first of the film’s many rousing moments, he declares, “We cannot let the administration dictate what we can and cannot print.”
By Bradlee’s side is Katharine Graham, played by the great Meryl Streep. Her battles are different. She inherited the newspaper from her late husband, who’d been handed the reins when her own father skipped her as the rightful heir. And she didn’t question his decision. How could she? It was a different time for women. In one poignant dinner party scene, even as one of the most powerful persons in the room, when the men declare that it is time to discuss politics, she excuses herself with the other ladies to gossip about fluff pieces.
Spielberg and his longtime cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski, shoot the several of the duo’s scenes in a two-shot, and let the dialogue – partially written by Josh Singer, who previously won an Oscar for Spotlight – and their performances do the work. The camera takes a more frantic approach in the newsroom, lit with greys and blacks, dense with the smoke of a hundred cigarettes.
There are, of course, parallels to be drawn between what happened during the Nixon presidency and what is happening now, under Donald Trump, and even at home. We cannot forget the FIR that was registered against a journalist not one week ago. To control the news is to control the votes, and to control the votes is to control your fate. The press has always been a vulnerable machine, both envied and coveted. They’ve tried to attack it, to tame it, to cage it and yet, like Ben Bradlee and Kay Graham, it barrels on.
There is disenfranchisement, there is constant mocking, constant blaming - and in many cases, it is deserved. As someone on the inside, I can reveal that the worst possible way for this scenario to play out is if the reader believes everything he or she reads. Everything should be questioned, even this review, because in cynicism lies the truth.
These aren’t necessarily the debates we’re either willing or confident enough to have. But we must. To doubt, to challenge, to never settle - that’s what The Post is about. Journalism has seen worse days, so there is no question that it will survive this worrisome phase in its undeterred story. We will not see it survive, but we can help make sure it stands a chance.
Watch the trailer for the Post here