The Post centers on the specific circumstances which led an up-and-coming newspaper like the Washington Post to print what is now commonly referred to as “the Pentagon Papers” in 1971.
The documents exposed the government, showing they knew there would be no winnable outcome for America’s involvement in Vietnam. The film is rooted in history, but Spielberg uses his all the tools in his bag to make it work as a thriller. The film has a fantastic cast anchored by two of the best actors of our generation, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. Streep plays publisher Kate Graham, who ultimately has to decide if putting her families business is worth being on the right side of history. Hanks is editor Ben Bradlee who pushes Graham to see what’s at stake. We are in good hands.
Despite the dense journalistic story, The Post never lags; Spielberg keeps the pace quick. Much of what makes this movie special is the power of the dialogue from screenwriters Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, delivered with urgent intensity by everyone in the staggering cast.
Spielberg was smart to surround his significant players in the narrative with reliable character actors. Bob Odenkirk, David Cross, Jesse Plemons, Bradley Whitford, and Alison Brie are some best in the business, and each have their moment to shine. Whitford is a standout in this who’s who of supporting players, representing the group of people who didn’t want Graham to publish the story. Does economic sense outweigh common sense? Can the dollar dictate what is lawful and what isn’t?
Streep’s character not only shines a light on the freedoms the press must be able to exercise, but the institutional sexism that was running wild as well (things haven’t exactly changed). Her performance is measured, calm through the first two acts, until Graham has to take a stand. Streep’s portrayal sells the audience on an awakening her character experiences. For years she was relying on her husband to make the tough calls, and even after his death, she sought counsel. The men on the board saw this as a weakness when, in fact, she could process the emotions that made her a great publisher. Streep’s Oscar moment in the boardroom is a stand-out-of-your-seat moment.
Hanks’s character is driven by emotion and the passion for seeking the truth no matter the cost. He is the yin to Graham’s yang. In his mind, this decision couldn’t be more straightforward.
Hannah and Singer’s crackling screenplay is but the canvas that Spielberg creates a vibrant drama that’s richly detailed and challenges the historical work he did with Munich, a film set around the same time. Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography is, as always, an essential part in the overall success of the film. Rather than being tasked to capture some picturesque moments, Kaminski was charged with filming loads of dialogue and to do it in a visually pleasing manner. The use of the handheld camera keeps the intimacy in tact.
Rarely does a film far exceed the lofty expectations placed upon it, but The Post is no ordinary release. Spielberg has managed to take a moment in our nation’s history and transform it into a spectacular heart-pounding cinematic event, one that lives in a richly-textured period epic, and one who’s message feels as timely as anything in popular culture.