Defining Moments: The Wonder of The Post
Director: Steven Spielberg Starring: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk Runtime: 116 minutes
Steven Spielberg’s name has long been synonymous with the Great Hollywood Blockbuster. When we hear the name Spielberg, we imagine runaway boulders, we feel the ground quiver under the weight of reptilian feet, we choke on seawater. Hearing that Spielberg was tackling a historical docudrama about a newspaper was a little surprising. But rest assured, The Post is not overwrought history reeled out to humour a director’s quirk. The Post documents a defining moment for the Washington Post newspaper, with deep resonance in the current political climate.
The film opens in the thick of the Vietnam War. Spielberg soon undercuts the gravity of this explosive opening scene by switching focus to a Washington Post boardroom where we get to know a bumbling version of Meryl Streep. Streep plays Katharine Graham, a sudden widow who has become head of the paper following her husband’s suicide. Everyone is hoping she’ll fade into a figure head but she truly cares for the direction of her family paper.
Through Katharine or ‘K’ as they call her, we get to navigate the tension between legacy and inadequacy. The New York Times looms over the characters at this ‘local paper’, scooping major political issues while they struggle to get coverage of Nixon’s daughter’s wedding. No one respects ‘K’ and no one respects her little paper. She’s forced to open the Post to the New York stock exchange – not unlike the subscription packages many newspapers rely on now.
In setting The Post up with underdogs, Spielberg gives us someone to root for and bridges the emotional distance often created in biopics. The Post puts the work in to draw in its audience, and then moves on to the meat of its plot. The plot comes in snippets; we watch classified documents removed from their filing cabinet, there’s photocopiers everywhere, and while we’re drifting along with the humdrum at the Washington Post, the New York Times is publishing the Pentagon Papers and revealing a massive betrayal to the American Public – the White House have known that they couldn’t win the Vietnam War for decades, and they hid it.
Where freedom of the press had previously meant ‘Will we gatecrash the Nixon wedding?’, it holds much more weight now that national security and prison sentences are at stake.
It’s interesting that a film billed as ‘the first time Hanks and Streep have shared the screen’ would source so much of its supporting cast from TV. Bob Odenkirk is the perfect sad-sack, we could imagine him as Jack Lemmon if this film were made in a different time. Alison Brie of Community, and now Netflix Original Glow, fame gives a strong performance as Streep’s supportive daughter. Jesse Plemon brings his disturbing energy from roles such as Todd from Breaking Bad and the latest season of Black Mirror. And Sarah Paulson of American Horror Story gives a scene-stealing performance dressing down to Hanks when he asks how Katherine is braver than him.
The deft handling of The Post‘s plot which rapidly unravels out of our characters control makes for a passable film. But the inclusion of monologues that hold dramatic weight and linger in the air throughout, underpinned by solid performances, produce a memorable piece of cinema. That’s even without the parallels between the film’s insistence that ‘The only way to protect the right to publish is to publish’ and that ‘the news is the rough draft of history’ and Trump’s vendetta against ‘Fake News’.
If The Post was a newspaper article, the headline would be ‘Local paper goes International’. (4 / 5)