Acclaimed Jewish director Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks combine their respective talents for based-on-fact drama The Post, a timely film about a battle between the United States government and the press.
After establishing the discrepancy between the government’s statements on Vietnam and the reality, The Post takes viewers behind the scenes at the Washington Post. The newspaper is run by Kay Graham (Streep), who inherited it after the death of her husband. Despite her experience, the board has doubts about a woman’s ability to lead a large business. The man running her newsroom, Ben Bradlee (Hanks), is struggling to make his paper relevant. Then, the New York Times publishes a story based on leaked government papers detailing how the government had lied about Vietnam for over thirty years. After the Times are forced to stop publishing it under the threat of legal action, the Post acquires some of the papers. They must decide if their responsibility to the American people outweighs their fear of reprisal from the Nixon White House.
Though it starts slow, seven-time Best Director Oscar nominee (and two-time winner) Spielberg and his screenwriters (Liz Hannah and Jewish writer Josh Singer (winner of a Best Original Screenplay Oscar in 2016 for co-writing Spotlight) successfully build tension throughout the film. Spielberg and his cast and crew are skilled professionals and this is a well-structured and focused film.
It is an interesting time to make a movie positioning reporters as dedicated heroes and loyal servants to the American people. At a time when the government and the press have an extremely combative relationship, a true story detailing a previous battle between the two seems very fitting.
The cast is really good. Streep and Hanks play off of each other well as a woman split between her duty to her investors and her duty to her readership and a man determined to create the best news section possible regardless of personal risk. Both of their characters are also given confidants away from the paper (Bradlee’s wife, Tony (Sarah Paulson), and Graham’s daughter, Lally (Jewish actress Alison Brie from the Netflix series GLOW)), which helps reveal their inner struggles with the issue at hand.
As Bradlee’s most trusted reporter, Bob Odenkirk is responsible for moving the plot forward. While the others debate each other, his Ben Bagdikian puts himself at risk to find the story. Odenkirk takes a supporting character and makes him the heart of the film.
The Post’s singlemindedness is a positive and a negative. The setup, though necessary for making sense of everything, takes a long time to get through. I appreciate how Hannah and Singer were able to drop in personal character details during their conversations about the papers. It added depth to a story much bigger than the individuals involved. However, many of those conversations felt repetitive. Though I believe they talked things over many times, each characters’ stance was established pretty quickly, so all of their arguments started to feel the same after a while. But once the heat gets turned up in the second half, the film delivers with some powerful and dramatic speeches.
The Post is not a great film. It is slow to get going and a little preachy with all of its speeches about the importance of the free press. It is, however, a good film, with good performances and some well-written dialogue. Spielberg takes a story that we all need to be reminded of right now and simply tells it. When it is this interesting, that is enough.
3½ out of 5
By Ben Pivoz
Ben’s Movie Reviews