Film Review: The Post
By Will Bjarnar
In a day and age where you would think that freedom of the press would be practiced and honored without hesitation, our government’s perceived control over the media has silenced some of the world’s top journalists from doing what they do best. Via a Twitter feed and through the voices of Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, our president has made it clear that one of his primary duties will continue to be discounting and shunning top news outlets as they report what he deems “fake news.” You’ve heard it thousands of times to this point. I don’t need to remind you of our reality.
On the car ride home from the theater this evening, my mother raised one point that should radiate from The Post, Steven Spielberg’s latest historical drama: “what great timing.” A film that recalls the 1971 Pentagon Papers crisis and challenges the issues of freedom of the press at that time, it echoes similar messages that we are seeing across our media landscape today.
The story chronicles the beginnings of one of the country’s most renowned newspapers of today, the Washington Post. As the New York Times dominated the media with the biggest stories and best sources, the Post struggled to gain national momentum. While the Times had the resources to plaster a deprecating feature on the Secretary of Defense on its front page, the Post highlighted the wedding of Richard Nixon’s daughter, a story that they were nearly unable to get green lit.
Head editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and publisher Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep in her best role in recent memory) struggled to uncover stories that would grasp the attention of the country. The newspaper finally began to grow thanks to an agreement to become tradable on the stock exchange, and a general sense of recognition followed. However, it reached the peak of its potential as reporter Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) discovered the very beginnings of the Pentagon Papers, and the newspaper finally had a decision that could alter its future permanently.
The Times beat them to the punch again. However, an old friend of Bagdikian’s, Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), had walked out of work with a briefcase full of the secret files five years prior to this dilemma, and led the Post toward the possibility of national recognition.
While I was familiar with the story’s ending, I had hoped to at least be left gasping as the deadline for printing rapidly approached. As dead air floated across phone lines waiting to hear Graham's decision on whether to publish, there was intended suspense, but its delivery fell short. The script made it obvious what was upcoming, and construction made it predictable despite the history being known. Its truth makes this okay. You would like for Bradlee and his team of journalists (Odenkirk, Carrie Coon, David Cross and more) to make way for Graham to command her paper and decide whether or not she truly felt fear, doubt or assurance. Instead, she stumbled through a shaky, “yea- yea- yea, let’s go, let’s…let’s publish.” You never got a true feeling of the possibility that this could ruin Graham and her paper. This is in no way the fault of Streep, as she played the part magnificently.
Despite the few and minute deficiencies in its writing, The Post is a phenomenal film, made perfectly to tell its shocking and remarkable tale. Spielberg directs the film with a precision that he has always been expected to bring and deliver. The all-star cast, which even includes the previously unnamed Tracy Letts, Sarah Paulson, Bradley Whitford, Michael Stuhlbarg and Alison Brie, will go down as one of the most star-studded of 2017. Being included--nay--highlighted as one of this year’s nominees for Best Picture was never in any doubt, from the moment “Streep” and “Hanks” appeared alone on the film’s first promotional poster.
As much a story about defiance, rebellion and conquering the mighty, this truly is a story of political opposition. Trump’s true wall is one between him and the press, and is causing us to see in real-time the ramifications of such political decisions. His clueless violation of the First Amendment is something that The Post makes apparent, even though the film and the present day take place 47 years apart. It’s like history is repeating itself.
On June 30, 1971, the United States Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in favor of continuing the freedom of publication, including the documents that both the New York Times and the Washington Post ventured to share with the world. Post-ruling, Associate Justice Hugo Black shared his thoughts on the matter of such a controversial case and why it was warranted. He said, “In seeking injunctions against these newspapers, and in its presentation to the Court, the Executive Branch seems to have forgotten the essential purpose and history of the First Amendment…in the First Amendment, the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors.” If only Black were here to send that message once more.
Whether or not the intention was for Spielberg’s historical drama to spark more conversation about the true meaning of “freedom of the press,” or to make it on the scene in time for Oscar voters to have it fresh in their minds heading into the booths, The Post delivers in just about all ways. It’s an undeniable 115 minutes of captivation and will be watched and marveled upon for years to come.