TL;DR – A wonderfully filmed, brilliantly acted look at what was one of the most controversial periods in United States’ history. While it is interesting it does take a bit to get going.
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – No
I don’t think a film in recent history has had an easier sell as The Post, a film directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Meryl Streep & Tom Hanks, scored by John Williams, and based on one of the most controversial periods in United States’ history. Indeed, this is a kind of line up that you don’t see happen very often, and it is truly amazing to see it all come together. That being said there are some structural issues that do hold it back, and it does have a very clear message, and it is subtle about it which might work for you or not.
So to set the scene, The Post opens in 1965 during the controversial, to put it mildly, Vietnam War. Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) is working for the United States State Department and as part of his mission evaluating the War, he goes on patrol which comes under attack and thus experiences the futility of the war first hand. It is his view that the War has not in any way improved, even with the large expansion of US troops. He reported this back to the then US Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood), no relation, confirming his own suspicions about the futility of the War and jump cut to 1971 and the War is still going on and nothing has changed. Well, things are about to change, because Ellsberg looking at the state of things has secretly been taking what is now known as the Pentagon Papers and made copies. While this is happening over at The Washington Post Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) is working on taking the family-owned company public. The aim is to get a much-needed injection of cash to allow the paper to grow and be more competitive in a very difficult market. This is a difficult decision for her because it had always been a family-owned paper first her father and then her late husband. As well as this, there is one small clause in the public float, that if there is an emergency in seven days from the offering the bankers can pull out, well the biggest news story of the time has dropped and Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) the editor of the paper is chasing the story, the story The White House is trying to crush.
This is one of those films where it is hard to think about just where to start, I mean just look at the cast list, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Rhys, Alison Brie, Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons and so many more in just one film, for anyone who is a lover of cinema this is a dream come true. Meryl Streep is amazing in just about everything she has ever being in, and here is no exception. Tom Hanks is in his element as the editor fighting for the truth, but he does not have the cleanest past. You have Bob Odenkirk nailing every scene as Ben Bagdikian one of the investigative journalists that use to be in the Armed Forces, so he has the experience in the area. Hell you have Jesse Plemons pop up as one of the lawyers which is a lot of fun, Bradley Whitford is there as the films resident curmudgeon, Alison Brie one of the up and coming actors in the industry is there playing a relatively small part and yet it still feels integral to the film. Look you could care nothing about the film’s message, nor the historical importance of The Pentagon Papers, but you will still enjoy just watching experts in their field show why they are so good.
While the cast is important, at the heart of The Post is one really important theme, you need investigative journalism, especially when the powerful want to shut them down. Because we are about to look at the story and even though this is history, I still want to warn people that there may be some [SPOILERS] ahead. Now it does not take a giant leap to work out why this film is as important to understand now as it was back in the days of the Vietnam War and I am sure that played a part in getting it greenlit. However, it is this focus of the theme that is The Post’s biggest strength but also its biggest weakness. Now the good is clear that is provides the core motivation for the film, it leads to strong character moments, and it is a good cautionary tale about the role of governments. However, this singular focus does lead to some structural issues, due to this conflict at the core of the film, it actually requires a lot of set up before the film gets to the interesting part. This means where the film really shines is in its third act, once they get their hands on copies of The Pentagon Papers, and all the ethical dilemmas the film had been hinting about comes to the fore. Before this, there is a lot of fussing and some great character moments, but it all feels intangible like it is waiting, biding time for the hammer to drop. It is not that anything that comes before the third act is bad, just that they sort of drag the main themes out by constantly going back to them over and over again.
That being said this constant repetition did work in places and we see that with one of the core parts of the film with how Kay Graham is looked down on by the board because no one thinks she has the strength to run the newspaper because she is a woman. Throughout the film, Kay has to find her strength in a world that is often at best just giving her lip service and at worst outright stating that she can’t lead, hell her own father gave the paper to her husband because that was the done thing to do at the time. Kay has the one real arc of the film as she takes more of a stand for her and the paper in the face of opposition from every part of the process. So when The Post is holding up a mirror to those in power like when Kay is ripping Robert a new one or Ben is fighting for the existence of the paper the film is sublime. I just wish more of the film had worked as well as that in the first two acts, in some ways it does feel like it was a little rushed in preproduction.
In the end, it is not a perfect film, but it is an important one. In the world today the media landscape is rapidly changing and newspapers across the globe are finding it hard to survive in a world where clickbait drives revenue, and yes newspapers have to take some of the blame in not adapting to the new media landscape. But, and it is a big but, for a functioning democracy we need a strong media, that will investigate and hold the powerful to account, and that is important to remember now more than ever. So we do recommend you go see The Post.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of The Post
Directed by – Steven Spielberg
Written by – Liz Hannah & Josh Singer
Music by – John Williams
Cinematography by – Janusz Kamiński
Edited by – Michael Kahn & Sarah Broshar
Starring – Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Rhys, Alison Brie, Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons, David Cross, Zach Woods, Pat Healy, John Rue, Rick Holmes, Philip Casnoff, Jessie Mueller, Stark Sands, Brent Langdon, Michael Stuhlbarg & Christopher Innvar
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; Germany: na; New Zealand: M; United Kingdom: 12A; United States: PG-13