- The Post (2018)
It’s 1971, and The Washington Post is a newspaper with a local reach that’s about to search for investors to keep the company alive. Soldiers in Vietnam are fighting the hopeless war, covered up by the government in fear of humiliation. When two of these situations cross paths and the classified documents are revealed by a whistleblower, a race with time unfolds the battle with the White House. Gambling with the law, the first female publisher in the US and a determined editor of her paper launch an investigation in a historic face-off between the government and the free press.
A love letter to journalism, The Post channels the energy of an editorial office with unchallengeable enthusiasm and dynamism. The newsroom’s reality is revealed through observations that speak volumes. Be it the editor that crosses out the beginning of the article’s opening sentence or the writers busily pushing it to the deadline, Spielberg manages to convey the charm of the chase for the good story. The Washington Post is a local paper with big ambitions; the editors are out and about finding the newsworthy topics to cover, they worry about their relations with politicians and wonder about their future as the company plans to go public. We instantly become a part of this social circle for two hours and engage in its fight to keep the publication relevant. It’s easy to plunge into this world, looking over the shoulders of busy writers and investigators trying to crack a case.
Articulating the importance of the freedom of speech and the independence of the press, the film presents the portraits of people endlessly dedicated to uncovering the truth. But the director adds another layer of nuance to the story: beyond Pentagon Papers, the protagonists have used the opportunities to pull punches on the governors before. Their previous experiences help them to figure out what really matters – and they add the new dimension to the plot, allowing us to question the imposed sense of personal integrity as well as responsibility and its separation from the private interest.
In the times when America struggles with the president who demonises the press and many countries have their journalistic pillar of healthy democracy destroyed on the world’s watch, The Post is an essential film. It reminds the audience that no one has the impunity to be ruling on their own, and that the balance is crucial to a strong government. Spielberg underlines the power of acting together in the face of threats to democracy; he signalises that when one person or organisation stands up for it, the others will follow suit. It takes one strong voice to make that decision, but it doesn’t come without taking risks that can lose the battle and capitulate in the war without the last word.
When it comes to each character’s own concerns, they’re unpacked steadily from the very beginning. Whether it’s a job, a reputation or personal freedom, all of them have a lot to lose. To depict that convincingly, Spielberg deals the cards with a confident hand, perilously open and straightforward about every direction for the character. There’s little to be subtle about when it comes to a big message, and the director doesn’t play hide-and-seek when it comes to the moral of this story. There’s a little hope to it, too: the people once seen as complicit can turn around and stand up for what’s right. All it takes is a little reminder and a vision of the better future.
The character of Ben Bradlee, played by Tom Hanks, teaches us that lesson. As the editor in chief, he pursues the story of national importance and demands accountability, but as we’re subtly reminded, he wasn’t always fully inquisitive when it comes to dealing with the government. But beyond one righteous man, there are also grey eminencies who contribute to the story with small, yet significant performances. In a splendid supporting role, Bob Odenkirk as one of the top writers also pushes for the truth, dutifully investigating the case because “he always wanted to be a part of a small rebellion”. Similarly, Sarah Paulson as Tony Bradlee stands by her husband and reminds him that not everything in life is as straightforward as we see it at the first glance.
But it’s Katherine, the publisher of the Washington Post, who has the most at stake. Meryl Streep creates Kay with a whole lot of awareness and understanding of her character. She’s stuck in a man’s world, well aware that she’s not supposed to be a publisher. The film isn’t shy to talk about that from the opening scenes: Streep’s character spends hours practising the arguments to present for the board, but she struggles to speak and becomes overtaken when she feels the lack of respect hovering in the air. However, the love for her family business and the dedication to ideals she holds dear motivate her to knock down the obstacles on her way. Struck with an ethical dilemma that could bring the end to The Post, she tries to put things into perspective and resolve it on her own. Ultimately, that results in a couple of striking, tearful conversations, entirely taken over by the actress’s charisma. Once again, they show Streep’s ability to build the complexity of her heroines by leading them in absolutely any direction she chooses.
Based on a fascinating true story, The Post is a film that’s excruciatingly relevant, working remarkably well as a commentary on the times it was created in. Its preoccupation with the freedom of speech highlights the role of those who stand up against the most powerful institutions to uncover the truth, expressed through complex, interesting characters in fully cinematic terms. A dynamic, brave reminder that the freedom is never granted forever and we’re responsible for shielding its flame has never been more necessary.
The Post opens in the UK on the 19th of January 2018.