DIR: Steven Spielberg • WRI: Liz Hannah, Josh Singer • PRO: Kristie Macosko Krieger, Amy Pascal, Steven Spielberg • DOP: Janusz Kaminski • ED: Sarah Broshar, Michael Kahn • MUS: John Williams • DES: Rick Carter • CAST: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson
The Post, above all else, is a reminder that its director Steven Spielberg is a master at his craft. The film’s dialogue heavy screenplay by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, taking place mostly over a few days in June 1971, in lesser hands could have been stagey. However, Spielberg brings his flair for blockbuster directing to proceedings, crafting a film where the duty and potential power of a free press – represented by a mammoth old-style printing machine mighty enough to shake a building – feels as strong as a velociraptor.
The Post kicks off with military analysist Daniel Ellsberg (an excellent Matthew Rhys – The Americans) leaking files to The New York Times. The documents highlight how the US for years has been aware the Vietnam War is a lost cause but has continued to send soldiers. The paper begins to post stories based on the files. However, the expose is cut short when a court injunction sought by Richard Nixon prevents The New York Times from continuing with their expose.
Meanwhile, editor-in-chief for The Washington Post, Ben Bradlee (Spielberg’s muse Tom Hanks), is eager to get his hands on the same documents and disregard the court injunction. The assistant editor for the paper, Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk, bringing the same likeability and pathos he brought to Better Call Saul), knows Ellsberg personally and has a hunch he is behind the leak. While Bagdikian tries to locate the documents, Bradlee attempts to convince paper president Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) to ignore the injunction. Not only could this jeopardise the paper’s upcoming IPO – necessary to keep the paper solvent – Bradlee and Graham could face prison.
From the opening scene, Spielberg elevates the material. The film begins with an impressive Vietnam war action beat. Following this, The Post moves into spy-thriller mode as Ellsberg stalks the corridors of his organisation’s offices by night to steal America’s secrets or when Bradlee pays an intern to loiter around The New York Times’ newsroom to swipe a scoop. Meanwhile, as critic David Ehrlich notes, there is a Scorsese swagger to the scenes at The Washington Post’s headquarters. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski’s camera swoops around the offices at a breath-neck tempo, evoking a similar tone to films like Goodfellas or The Wolf of Wall Street. This pace works for drama, highlighting that the characters (particularly Hanks’ Bradlee) find their job – being the gatekeepers that keep democracy functioning – and its many challenges exhilarating.
The script is on-the-nose at times – I did not need to hear Carrie Coon’s journalist state that the press exists to serve the governed, not the governors (although it is great the The Leftovers actress is given a juicy monologue to sink her teeth into). That said, the screenplay does a very good job at telling a convoluted story in a way that feels succinct and easy-to-follow. Also, it is filled with interesting characters (I have not even mentioned Jesse Plemons as The Washington Post’s legal counsel, Tracy Letts and Bradley Whitford as advisors to Graham and Bruce Greenwood as Secretary of Defence Bob McNamara) and each is given a moment to shine.
The acting, as expected with Spielberg and his typically stacked casts, is universally impeccable. Tom Hanks’ brings a blend of effortless confidence but world weariness to the same role which won Jason Robards the Academy Award previously in All the President’s Men. Meanwhile Streep, although saddled with slightly more conventional material (a family tragedy, sexism), gives her best performance in years. Her character’s arc is relatively simple; someone who changes from brittle to strong, from being told what to do to someone giving orders. That said, when the switch comes, it is undeniably powerful because of Streep’s phenomenal talent.
Not only is The Post a fun and exciting movie (comparable in tone to Spielberg’s previous work Catch Me If You Can and Bridge of Spies), it is an important film in today’s climate. There are scenes in the drama where the audience hear Nixon ranting and swearing about The New York Times and The Washington Post, calling to mind Trump’s recent war on ‘fake news’.
The Post is a reminder that quality journalism should still be cherished and championed. Journalists have a duty to inform the people and have the potential to bring about a great change.
12A (See IFCO for details)
The Post is released 19th January 2018