Helmed by the always brilliant Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, The Post is a conventional but throughly enticing exploration of a timely exposé.
In 1965, the Vietnam War was at its peak, going on to claim the lives of almost 60,000 Americans. It was in this year that military analyst Daniel Ellsberg gained accessed to a series of classified documents – the Pentagon Papers – that showed how the US government had been covering up the realities of the war for years. Fast-forward to the 21st century and we’re still living in a time of rife US political and presidential controversy, with “Fake News” and accusations of election fixing dominating the press. It’s in this latter context that we’ve been presented with Steven Spielberg’s latest drama, The Post, but the release could not be more timely.
Directed by Steven Spielberg, The Post explores the attempts of The Washington Post to access the military information leaked six years earlier by Ellsberg. Pressure is on owner, Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), as the paper is struggling financially and she is continually undermined by the men around her. Executive editor, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), is desperate to find the perfect story and propel the paper back to profitability – his life revolves around news and he’s willing to go above and beyond to get the latest scoop, but ultimately, the decision of what goes to print is up to Mrs Graham. The government stand in their way, with President Nixon desperate to stop the papers publishing the secrets they’ve gained access to, knowing that the info these journalists hold could be just the beginning in a series of huge exposés – Watergate came just a year later.
It feels at times like this a film we’ve seen before, with new explorations of the Vietnam War hitting our screens pretty much yearly and Spotlight perfectly executing the newsroom drama in 2015. The Post therefore plays out in a rather formulaic way – dramatic silences in the newsroom that change the course of the working day and pivotal telephone calls stringing different elements of the plot together. Luckily, there’s just enough originality in the way that Spielberg has executed his material to mean that, in most parts, this drama is still breaking news.
Spielberg is not the only film industry giant involved here, with Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks fronting a stellar cast. As we would expect, they’re both fantastic, with Streep in particular delivering what feels like a really personal performance as widow, Kay Graham. There’s so much at stake for this character who is faced with such huge decisions that could put her job, her family, and the paper’s ability to publish at risk, and Streep perfectly conveys Graham as a woman torn between the three. She has a heart of gold and always wants to do the right thing, but in this scenario, that’s not always possible.
In a more understated role comes the biggest surprise of the film – Bob Odenkirk. He plays the character of Ben Bagdikian, a journalist who knows Ellsberg and provides the newsroom’s best hope in acquiring the ever-so-precious papers. Odenkirk’s experience and excellence playing the comic role of Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul reflects hugely here, with his dialogue often providing light-relief from what is otherwise a serious drama. His performance will qualify for what is always an incredibly competitive category at the Academy Awards, but he’s definitely a worthy pick for Best Supporting Actor.
Although we get the impression that Streep and Hanks play their roles with ease and Spielberg could direct this film in his sleep, The Post is undoubtedly well executed by all and reaches the all so important ‘edge-of-your-seat’ territory at times. In the era of “Not My President”, there’s plenty to take away from this drama.
The Post (2018), directed by Steven Spielberg, is distributed in the UK by Entertainment One, certificate 12A.