Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, two of the most honored actors of their generation appear for the first time together on the big screen in Steven Spielberg’s The Post. It is 1971 and the right of the Freedom of the Press comes glaringly into view when first “The New York Times,” then “The Washington Post” publishes stories on the Pentagon Papers, actually excerpting them in the process. This reveals two staggering facts: the American government not only believed that the Vietnam War was un-winnable; but they continued to send soldiers to Asia, killing thousands in the process, because the government didn’t want America to look like a failure, or that they had made a mistake in going to war. The Nixon administration, naturally isn’t pleased with this and orders an injunction to both papers to cease and desist, the case ends up in the Supreme Court. This happens in a relatively short time and the compressed screen time from publication to the Supreme Court decision helps add urgency to the story.
The Post certainly benefits from its timeliness, as the media and journalists are being scrutinized and accused of fake news, not only by the general public, but by the current American administration. The importance of the press and journalism, perhaps hasn’t been as important in a long time. This adds weight to the film, and perhaps consciously or subconsciously fuels its sometimes preachy dialogue. The movie is gamely acted, with Meryl Streep turning in yet another great performance. Ever the chameleon, her Katharine (Kay) Graham, the newspaper’s publisher, is a woman, who has doubts, but who firmly stands by her decisions, even when facing opposition from her most trusted advisors, all men by the way. She shows us that leaders, indeed are people that should be looked up to, but they are also human, very human. Streep hooks cannily into Graham’s humanity without being sentimental. This adds great credibility and relatability to her performance. Hanks plays real life Chief Editor Ben Bradlee, a part that Jason Robards also played in All the President’s Men (1976) so well he won an Oscar. Hanks' take is completely different than Robards; it is much warmer and less all-business. Whether he took his lead from Streep, the director or just his own choice, he has succeeded in portraying a human, humorous Bradlee. Even more impressive than the leads is the supporting cast, some of them award winning actors in their own right. They all seem like real journalists living in the 1970’s. It’s fun to try and recognize them behind their horn-rimmed glasses.
The Post is entertaining, if a bit too talky sometimes. It moves along at a brisk pace, despite its subject matter. There is some great attention to detail and one of the most exciting sequences is the visual rendering of the actual edition of The Washington Post going to print. However, despite this, there are sometimes sequences that feel “gauzy” and inauthentic; like only when women are waiting outside of the Supreme Court for Katharine Graham to exit after the verdict. They don’t say anything to her and the whole thing feels like staged history. Other sequences feel Hollywoodized as well, like the assembling of 4,000 pages while eating sandwiches.
Still its heart is in the right place and it is an adult movie tackling important themes. Ultimately it is a good movie, not a great movie. There was something lacking in my emotional connection to the characters and what they wanted and even the story itself. It is possible for me to be engaged by movies that follow real life events, where I know the ending of the story: Titanic, Philomena, Lion, Spotlight; but here the eventual outcome seems so inevitable at times, the suspense is deflated. If it had a bit more mystery, thrills, complexity and urban paranoia like All the President’s Men (dir. By Alan J. Pakula), it would have been more successful.