Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk
This is the sort of film, that even as an “entertainment” journalist, has you wishing for a pack of smokes, a glass of bourbon, a looming deadline and the heady smell of ink in the air. The Post is the romanticisation of the free press, in the hands of a master of nostalgia, and Steven Spielberg certainly knows how to wring that nostalgia for all that it’s worth – down to the little girl selling lemonade from a homemade stand in the streets. It’s classic Spielberg, and where it might at times veer into an obvious and heavy handed treatment, the cast, the production quality and the caliber of the director himself pull it back from the brink. All of which is before you even consider the obvious relevance to today, that lionization of an independent and strong press for the governed, in an era of “fake news” and national/security interests.
Set in 1971 with America long in the grip of the Vietnam War, and the Summer of Love well behind the cultural revolution, The Post looks at The Washington Post’s involvement in acquiring leaked documents that are embarrassing to the government’s continual commitment to this deeply unpopular war. As publisher Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) looks at listing her family’s business on the stock exchange, she becomes embroiled in an argument for “freedom of the press” that could pit her Washington Post (and it’s rival The New York Times), against the power of President Nixon.
In short, this is Steven Spielberg’s big sloppy love letter to the power of the printed press at a time it perhaps needs it the most. As a film it manages not only to convey the importance of this message, but also to delve into the period and the place. The Post gives audiences a feel for the era, in more ways than just the set dressing. It manages to convey the intricacies of the event, to build on the drama of the situation, and to give the characters stakes – both personal and professional. There are a lot of moving parts here, a lot of intricacies to explain, but the Liz Hannah (producer of Hitchcock/ Truffaut) and Josh Singer (Spotlight, The West Wing) script handles this well. Although they do have almost two hours to work with, so The Post certainly has that room to expand, but it never feels long or bloated for it.
A lot of the reason for this is Streep. She gives a master class in acting, using containment to convey emotion. Every pause, every stutter, every glance and repressed word communicates an upbringing in an era of gender inequality and a definite glass ceiling. It would be easier to display a more confident and decisive personality, but Streep manages to give a vulnerability to Graham without robbing her of the steel. Hanks on the other hand appears to be having a blast, conveying the crusty crusading editor Ben Bradlee as a man with ink running in his veins.
A remarkably solid outing, rather than one of the director’s truly great works, that still puts The Post above much of what is on the market at the moment.