The Post tells the suddenly-urgent-again story of a newspaper publisher (Meryl Streep) and her editor (Tom Hanks) as they struggle to decide whether or not to expose a cover up that goes all the way to the president. Four consecutive presidents were advised not to engage further in the Vietnam War and yet did so. The secret comes to light during the administration of Richard Nixon. Nixon is a formidable opponent for the newspaper that has already seen a rival paper silenced. As the deadline approaches, the publishers and editors must reach a decision.
The Post spends a fair amount of time setting up elements. A ferocious prologue reminds audiences of the horrors of the Vietnam War. The first act is then dedicated to establishing the leak, the process of stealing the documents, the ownership of the Washington Post, the precarious social and professional position of Kay Graham, Ben Bradlee’s editorial style, the feud with the Washington Times, the attempts to silence the Times by the White House, and the attempts of Ben Bagdikian to procure the smuggled papers. With the scene now well and truly set the action can begin as the papers come into the hands of the Post staff and the great debate comes to a head.
The first act is very exposition heavy and at times feels a little impenetrable. Had the action of the film begun with the inciting incident of the paper procuring these documents, the work of this first act might have been distributed amongst the dialogue of the more engaging scenes. Once the main story does begin, Spielberg once again proves to be the master of tension. The dilemma facing the staff is palpable as the threat of Nixon’s retribution looms large over them all. It becomes a story of doing the right thing in the face of great peril, both professionally and personally.
Much attention will undoubtedly be paid to the pairing of Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, and both really disappear into their roles. Hanks has a reputation of mainly playing Tom Hanks in different settings, though this is by no means a criticism as he is often able to achieve great pathos playing himself. The Post, however, offers an opportunity to exercise his range as he becomes the grouchy but principled newspaper editor. Streep meanwhile plays Kay Graham as a vulnerable and flawed person. She is flustered in meetings and seems eager to avoid conflict between her social connections and professional responsibilities. Yet watching her find her voice and her morals as the truth unfolds is one of the film’s greatest strengths.
It is a recurring theme throughout the film that those charged with deciding what truths the public must know are mired in personal obligations. Everybody is too close to the story, and telling the truth involves betraying friends, yet the film is an urgent statement about the importance of journalistic integrity and its role as another check on the presidency, that has never been more important.
The supporting cast is filled with familiar faces, many of whom are given ample chance to shine. Bob Odenkirk demonstrates the talents that have made Better Call Saul such a powerful standalone project, here playing a downtrodden journalist. Bradley Whitford is able to play the devil on everyone’s shoulder as he once again (following Get Out) plays the subtle yet menacing face of intolerance (sexism, in this case).
The Post is a tense, thoughtful and personal story with great relevance in the modern climate. It is well directed and very well acted. Just don’t worry too much about taking in all of the information thrown at you up front. When you need to know something, Spielberg’s talent for pure cinema will ensure that you do.
4 / 5