Few films scream Oscar-bait quite like The Post; it stars two Hollywood legends (Meryl Streep & Tom Hanks), is directed by Stephen Spielberg and focuses on a key piece of American history, the Vietnam War. So whilst it is surprising that it ‘only’ gained two nominations (Best Picture and Best Actress for Streep), it is still well worth a watch.
The Post throws us behind-the-scenes at the Washington Post in the 1970s. The new publisher, Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), has to face down a rebellious board who question her every decision (largely due to the fact that she’s a woman). Meanwhile, the paper’s editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) is desperate for it to take a harder stance against the presidency. When a whistleblower leaks papers that suggest a decades-spanning cover-up regarding the Vietnam War, the paper is thrown into an even more perilous position; do they publish the papers and risk the wrath of the Nixon administration, or ignore them in favour of assuring their financial backers and friends in Washington?
This is a film that is squarely in favour of the freedom of the press, and Bradlee frequently has lines that talk about preserving the first amendment. In our current political climate, it feels ever more important that journalists and the press are seen as, to paraphrase the judge’s ruling in this film, serving the governed not the government. The film is a real love letter to old-fashioned journalism, with shots of paper gathering and type-writing galore (perhaps a tad too many, as the film does occasionally feel its 2 hours). The writers (Liz Hannah & Josh Singer) don’t shy away from shining a light on the paper’s cosy relationship with politicians of both parties, and the way that journalists (especially at this time period) have to make a choice between friendly dinner parties and printing relevant news.
Of course, with Streep and Hanks at the film’s heart it was pretty guaranteed to be a good one. I was nervous about Streep at first, as she seemed to be doing Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady 2.0, but she managed to get across Kay’s determination to do things right; whilst being in a position she never expected to be, surrounded by people who don’t believe she deserves to be there (she takes over the paper upon her husband’s death; who was given leadership by her father). Moments like the ones where she brings all her paperwork to a meeting when the men haven’t, or like when people straight up ignore her presence despite her being the boss were both painful to watch, and well acted by Streep. Hanks is obviously always an endearing screen presence, and it is impossible not to warm to Bradlee as a character, despite his often doggish tactics. There are other good performances from Bradley Whitford (aka Josh Lyman) as chief board bad guy Arthur Parsons and Tracy Letts as Kay’s right-hand man Fritz Beebe.
Spielberg’s direction is for the most part fine; I like how embedded you were in the newsroom, how the chatter would overlap and the inter-weaving of the Watergate tapes. There were, however, moments where I felt like his direction (and John Williams) score were a little heavy-handed. Spielberg clearly wanted to tell Kay’s story as an empowering one and scenes where she was blocked out of character’s walking and talking after meetings; or the divide between the men and women at dinner parties were well-handled. However, occasionally this was a bit forced, namely where Kay leaves the court proceedings and is conveniently surrounded by women whilst stirring music plays. I did feel that in someone else’s hands the film could have been a bit snappier; but then may have been unlikely to attract the calibre of cast that it did.
Whilst it is an obvious Oscar-bait film, The Post is worth a watch, not least to remind you of the hard work journalists do to keep us all informed.