Steven Spielberg’s The Post is part of that cinematic sub-genre, the investigative journalism film, an auspicious club that contains Spotlight, Zodiac and at its pinnacle, Alan J Pakula’s Watergate classic, All The Presidents Men. The Post almost seems like an attempt at a prequel to that film as it details the explosive story of the Washington Post’s quest in 1971 to report on the major political controversy that preceded Watergate, the Pentagon Peppers. The so-called Pentagon Papers were a damning study commissioned by defence secretary Robert McNamara and leaked by former defence analyst Daniel Ellsberg that revealed the appalling folly of America’s incursion into Vietnam.
At the centre of the film are Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham who, if The Post reports the story, faces losing the company and possibly doing jail time for breaching national security and legendary editor Ben Bradlee (who was later instrumental in publishing the Watergate revelations) who might also do time here.
This is a vital story about events that shaped recent history and a cautionary tale about America’s dubious impact on the geopolitical landscape. It’s also a compelling and moving homage to journalistic integrity and the importance of the fourth estate in holding governments accountable. The story also has powerful resonances today with the decline of print journalism and in a US political landscape where the president seemingly dismisses as fake news articles he doesn’t like. It’s also a powerful reminder of the status of women then and now as Katherine is constantly forced to battle a patriarchal establishment that, despite her role as publisher, often regards her as invisible.
Spielberg has long had a reputation for spectacle but he’s tried to counteract that with recent dialogue-heavy political dramas like Lincoln that have showcased insightful performances by premier actors. He does so again here with an issues-based film that provides a wonderful platform for a top drawer cast. Through Katherine Graham, Meryl Streep powerfully embodies the uncertainty but emerging courage of a privileged but threatened woman. As Bradlee, Tom Hanks nails the necessary mix of flinty, maverick charm and journalistic dedication. There’s also fine support from top class actors such as Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bob Odendirk, Sarah Paulson, Bruce Greenwood and Jesse Plemons.
While The Post tells a riveting story with remarkable precision and excellent performances, it’s not without its faults. Spielberg appears never to have met a piece of sledgehammer symbolism he didn’t like and images such as The Washington Post building shaking as if in earth tremor while the printing presses pump out the Pentagon Papers story are a little too obvious. Similarly, some of the dialogue is clunky with characters occasionally speaking more like narrators than people in conversation. Thankfully, these stumbles only slightly diminish the terrific telling of an essential story.
Nick’s rating: ****
Genre: Historical drama.
Director(s): Steven Spielberg.
Release date: 11th Jan 2018.
Running time: 116 mins.
Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM. Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show