Review: The Post (2018)

Spielberg embraces the first amendment in this entertaining true-life story of the press vs. the State.

At any point in the last century of history you can seek out a scandal or event that made front-page news but in today’s baffling age of government madness and non-stop media firestorms it seems more of a headline baiting age than ever. The relationship between news media and government has oft been tumultuous one minute and sycophantic the next but arguably now more than ever – in the “Fake News” era – this up and down relationship is more tense. So, with this in mind, and with awards season raging, Steven Spielberg’s latest film is rather astutely timed.

The Post tells the true story of how journalists from The Washington Post were faced with a tough decision of going against the US government’s wishes, and publishing information from the classified Pentagon Papers, which revealed the extent of the administration’s deceit behind the decision to go to war in Vietnam. Like this years Darkest Hour, Spielberg’s film can be accused of tinkering with some actualities for the sake of the plot (the depiction of The New York Times’ role in the leaking of the papers in the film has drawn some criticisms) and this is certainly not the no frills journalistic drama masterclass that 2015’s Best Picture winning Spotlight was. This being said, there is still a very gripping film here about what real journalism is meant to be and what it actually is.

In spite of a quite slow start, the film comes to compellingly document this time in history, with a timely focus on Meryl Streep’s character Katharine Graham (publisher at The Washington Post and the first female publisher of a major American paper) and her struggle of overcoming the perceived confines of her gender in this position and the belittling viewpoints of her all-male colleagues. Streep brings a lot to the role and while the initial build of the film is a bit unsure footed, once the crux of the story kicks in, Graham’s personal stakes are brought front and centre and Streep captures the emotional weight on Graham’s shoulders and, despite his surprising lack of a Best Actor nomination this year, Tom Hanks is every bit as good as the dogged journalist Ben Bradlee. Hanks is humourous, magnificent and perhaps even the showstealer of the story, as he devours scenes with his wit and, eventually, gives the character a personal touch as he finally clicks with the strong woman he only saw as his unsure boss to start with but comes to see for the bold figure she really is. There is also a fine supporting turn by a brilliant Bob Odenkirk, who is by far the standout of a quite large pool of acting talent involved in the film.

John Williams’ strong – thriller esque – score helps get you even more involved as the plot becomes a race against time to/to not publish and the film’s perfect ending anchors this feature’s story as an important layer to one of American histories biggest presidential outrages. Spielberg may add some dramatized Hollywood flash to stretches of the story but the film is still a well put together historical coverage. The office interiors and printworks are made into marvellous backdrops by the iconic director, who in this movie has worked as fast as the depicted individuals in bringing this important and relevant story to the cinematorium. The Post is an interesting watch, with a brilliant headline (see what I did there?) double act and an important story spread across the pages of its script…a story it largely tells in an engaging and accomplished fashion.

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