Newspapers used to mean something. They held politicians accountable, informed the public, and kept a lookout over the world. In short, they were a big deal in this nation’s foundation of hope, trust, and doing things the right way, but somewhere along the way, they lost their sex appeal.
Steven Spielberg’s The Post will remind you of that greatness, when freedom of the press was championed and not negotiable. When protecting the people’s right to know was more important than protecting the bottom line of a company. It’s an expertly crafted film that will make you feel good at the end, and you’ll buy a newspaper after you leave the theater because of it.
The Post tells the story of Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep), and her decision making process during 1971 as publisher of the Washington Post and the willingness to expose the government for negligence in The Vietnam War. Along with her editor, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), Graham was faced with the ultimate decision for a newspaper: inform the people about a terrible cover-up or ensure the paper would run for the foreseeable future. With President Nixon waging war on the papers and her investors breathing down her neck to play it safe, Graham held the power of newspapers in the palm of her hand.
I love movies like The Post because they are made for a reason and are so much fun to watch. Like 2015’s Spotlight and All The President’s Men, The Post is an unbreakable combination of heart, power, and informative entertainment.
When it comes to stories involving wars, Hanks and Spielberg are the guys, and everybody else is merely filling out applications. These two give films a polish that few duos can match, and this is their favorite playground: telling great stories about the nation’s defining moments that some people may not know about. A visionary director and first class actor. A true dream team.
But this is Streep’s movie. Playing a strong yet vulnerable woman on the precursor of history, she once again finds an ability to carve out a performance that is both grand and honest. Watching Graham find her way through newspaper boardroom politics and government bullying is a true experience, and Streep is on a short list (of one) of actresses who could pull this role off. Her scenes with Hanks as Graham and Bradlee butt heads on strategy are so well played and acted that you realize how great movies can be again when the right parts are put in the same room.
It’s easy to take Streep for granted too. Owning the most Academy Award nominations will do that to a person, but she manages to remind us, like this movie does with moviemaking and history, how great she is. Powerful women require the most powerful actresses, and Streep makes Graham her own.
The supporting cast are aces across the board, with Tracey Letts shining as Graham’s advisor, Fritz Beebe, and Bob Odenkirk’s Ben Bagdikian making the most of his scenes. Sarah Paulson has perhaps the greatest monologue that puts the entire movie in perspective, and Alison Brie is excellent as Graham’s daughter. Michael Stuhlbarg, Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons, Bruce Greenwood, and Mathew Rhys are solid in smaller doses here. No one overplays their hand here, instead opting to simply bring a character to life via restraint and development.
The writing team of Liz Hannah and Josh Singer (who co-wrote Spotlight) do a phenomenal job of recreating those newspaper war room dialogue sessions and high wire conversations. The movie is inspired by the true story, but these writers don’t have to create much access drama for such a powerfully taut tale. Their script is pure Oscar gold.
There’s something about newspaper stories on film that always get my attention. Seeing the power of words put back on the screen and presented so well is a singular cinematic experience, like watching an old friend reappear for a couple hours. Spielberg literally brings you into the Post by using long tracking shots that feel like you are sitting at one of the desks instead of merely passing through on a camera. And try to not feel some adrenaline go through your veins when the paper is going through the machines and being printed.
Like the last Spielberg/Hanks masterpiece, Bridge of Spies, it helped that I knew very little about this story going in, because it made the movie land heavy punches during the viewing, instead of months before during a two minute preview. Going in fresh, without the aide of a trailer, can be beneficial to a moviegoer.
The Post is a cinematic fist bump, reminding you that there are two kinds of wars. There is the type where two parties battle on a field with weapons and intent to kill-and then there are the ones that are fought in buildings between noble souls and corrupt individuals. Since Spielberg is a master on both fields, so it’s no surprise that this movie is another signature stroke in his career. You won’t feel better leaving a movie than you do this one.
You’ll leave the theater knowing who Katherine Graham and Ben Bradlee are, and what they stood for. You’ll leave the theater knowing what happens when freedom of the press and government security collide. You’ll leave feeling very good about your nation’s history and how you can win a war with only the use of a typewriter.
Talk about a timely film. These days, Donald Trump takes a daily shot at media outlets and newspapers, trashing their professions and belittling their effect. He can do so because no one keeps him and his office in check. Trump should be glad that Katherine Graham isn’t around anymore.
The Post is a sure sign that the heavyweights have stepped up to table at the 2017 make believe desk, putting the rest of the Oscar favorites slate on notice.
What happens when you combine Spielberg, Hanks, Streep, and a powerful true story? Cinematic magic. Show some self-respect and watch this movie.