Review: The Post (2017)

The Post (2017)

Directed by: Steven Spielberg | 116 minutes | biography, drama | Actors: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Rhys, Alison Brie, Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons, David Cross, Zach Woods, Pat Healy, John Rue, Rick Holmes, Philip Casnoff, Jessie Mueller, Stark Sands, Deirdre Lovejoy

Although ‘The Post’ (2017) is set in 1971, the theme of this film is still very topical. From then-President Richard Nixon it is only a small step to Donald Trump. Moreover, thanks to the internet and social media, spreading ‘fake news’ has become much easier than it was fifty years ago. Unfortunately, freedom of the press is far from self-evident in every country in the world; there are plenty of countries – and not too far away from ours – where the government has a big finger on what is and is not published. Have we really not made any progress in all these years? Stevens Spielberg’s ‘The Post’ could be seen as a precursor to the ‘mother of all journalist films’, ‘All the President’s Men’ (1976); the final scenes already look ahead to the Watergate scandal. The Post itself revolves around the Pentagon Papers, the documents that revealed that the government has been lying to the people about the progress of the Vietnam War for years. Before The Washington Post wrote about this, it was a regional newspaper with modest ambitions, never thought to be ultimately responsible for the overthrow of the Nixon administration. To paint a picture of the newspaper’s low importance: The Post wasn’t even welcome to cover the wedding of Nixon’s daughter Tricia; only serious newspapers like The New York Times were welcome.

The same Times, however, has set its sights on something completely different; Thanks to disillusioned defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), the paper came into possession of the Pentagon Papers, a classified report by the US Department of Defense on US political and military interference in Vietnam between the years 1945 and 1967. showed, among other things, that the Lyndon B. Johnson administration had systematically lied not only to the people, but also to Congress, on a subject that went beyond the national interest. Bottom line: The US kept the Vietnam War — which it soon became clear could not be won — going on only out of fear of humiliation and loss of face. When The Times publishes this, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), editor-in-chief of The Washington Post, is furious about missing out on this “scoop.” But when the Justice Department bans The Times from writing about the Pentagon Papers any longer, Bradlee sees an opportunity. Thanks to his experienced reporter Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk), The Post manages to obtain its own copy of Ellsberg’s voluminous report. In about a day the journalists have to see the four thousand pages by struggling, but whether they can publish anything at all remains to be seen, because is it legal what they are doing? The question of whether The Post should ignore legal advice not to publish has to be answered by Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), the newspaper’s publisher since the death of her husband Phil. Being a woman in a man’s world is not easy, but Kay’s office is extra complex, since she went public with The Post that very week and investors might withdraw if the newspaper publishes the Pentagon Papers ‘betrays’ the government. In addition, Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood), who served as Secretary of Defense under Johnson and thus played a pivotal role in the whole thing, is a personal friend of hers.

It wouldn’t have been close if ‘The Post’ had been called ‘The Papers’. However, there was criticism about this from the corner of The New York Times; after all, it was that newspaper that first wrote about the Pentagon Papers, while the film would then suggest that The Post had the leading role in them (which was indeed the case with the disclosure of the Watergate affair). The screenplay – by newcomer Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, who already successfully made a journalistic film with ‘Spotlight’ (2015) – does not focus so much on the revelations and is in that respect less exciting than, for example, ‘All the President’s Men’, in which the viewer is really drawn into the research and actually experiences it. ‘The Post’ is more aloof, but does have a great cast to fall back on. Plus, Kay Graham’s character provides an interesting feminist angle. Meryl Streep plays these kinds of women with her eyes closed, but Kay’s transition – from insecure and conflict-avoiding woman who was thrown in charge of the publishing house, barely taken seriously by her male colleagues and more used to the The role of a ‘socialite’ rather than that of a company manager, to an outspoken and decisive administrator who does not stand alone but certainly does not intend to meekly follow their advice – is fascinating and is portrayed by Streep in a natural way. Tom Hanks doesn’t have to get the most out of it either, but like Ben Bradlee, he is pleasantly short-tempered and rebellious. None of the actors really stand out; ‘The Post’ excels in the collective’s performance. With the likes of Odenkirk, Greenwood, Rhys, David Cross, Tracy Letts, Michael Stuhlbarg, Carrie Coon, Sarah Paulson and Jesse Plemons in the ranks, even the smallest roles are filled with greatness.

Spielberg works with trusted people – John Williams provides the music, Janusz Kaminski does the camera work – and delivers a more than decent film. A film with an unavoidable message about the importance of press freedom and which also makes clear how difficult and difficult it must have been to have to make decisions at that moment; all those interests involved, the risks that were taken. On the other hand, the scenario is sometimes very explanatory and too often the audience has to be drawn to certain events or connections in a cumbersome way – just count how often Kay in particular starts a sentence with ‘Remember…’ – while the viewer can figure that out for themselves. It’s a good thing that these somewhat unhappily chosen formulations are spoken by ever reliable actors like Hanks and Streep, and so ‘The Post’ gets away with it. But it is these kind of small imperfections that ensure that ‘The Post’ does not reach the level of ‘All the President’s Men’ or even ‘Spotlight’. Nevertheless, this film – only the first of Spielberg, Streep and Hanks together – is rock solid.

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