Heroes come from all sorts of places and some of them come from the field of journalism, where reporters and various employees at media outlets seek to bring the truth to light and give their audiences the information they need. And given the current state of the country, we could certainly benefit from members of the media giving us a clearer picture of everything. History tends to repeat itself, and from time to time, freedom of the press has come under assault. That being said, who better in Hollywood than acclaimed director Steven Spielberg could show audiences a time in history where the fourth estate was under fire. Spielberg’s latest movie, The Post, looks at the release of the Pentagon Papers in the early 70s. No question the year’s most timely movie, The Post is a stirring, race-against-the-clock drama that is among the best movies of the year.
Katharine Graham is the first female publisher of a major American newspaper — The Washington Post. With help from editor Ben Bradlee, Graham races to catch up with The New York Times to expose a massive cover-up of government secrets that spans three decades and four U.S. presidents. Together, they must overcome their differences as they risk their careers — and very freedom — to help bring long-buried truths to light.
The most surprising thing about The Post is how Spielberg manages to make this journalistic movie such a thrilling drama from start to finish. While a good portion of The Post examines The Washington Post’s various employees researching and weighing the risks of publishing details from the Pentagon Papers, luckily the movie is more than just that. Whether it’s showing the early impact of the Pentagon Papers being exposed, getting quick glimpses of corruption from the highest levels of the government, or watching newspapers being printed with first editions issued to readers, The Post remains highly entertaining throughout its runtime. Accompanying the vision of Spielberg’s story are people off the set that helped make the movie all the more absorbing. Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography is aces, Rick Carter’s production design and Ann Roth’s costume design are Oscar-caliber, and famed composer John Williams’s adventurous score is a delight (like most of his scores).
As The Post gives the audience new information or new characters in rapid succession, Liz Hannah and Josh Singer’s sharp script keep things simplified as the movie moves at a brisk pace at just under two hours. Luckily, the movie’s message stays on point, as lines of dialogue (some of which are the best in a movie this year) that still ring true in today’s society are delivered by the movie’s tremendous ensemble cast, headlined by Meryl Streep (Kramer vs. Kramer) and Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump). Streep gives a grounded, yet powerful performance as the publisher of The Washington Post, Katharine Graham. Sure, it’s a different role than what we’ve seen from Streep in recent years, but it’s also her best performance in quite some time. Hanks (who has more screen time than Streep) is marvelous as Ben Bradlee, the hard-nosed editor of The Washington Post. It might feel like typical Hanks to some, but typical Hanks is usually better than just about anything in Hollywood. While the large ensemble cast features a number of actors who may be familiar to us from recently or currently popular television shows, a few of them manage to stand out. Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul) is wonderful as a Washington Post journalist; Tracy Letts (Homeland) is confidently good as a Washington Post board member; and Carrie Coon (The Leftovers) and Matthew Rhys (The Americans), in cameo-like roles, are outstanding as a staff member of The Washington Post and an activist.
The direction and production of The Post make it seem as if journalism is such a cool profession. Even though it is a product of Hollywood, it really is more of a history lesson that reminds us of a time when journalism mattered to the American people. While it may seem that politicians blaming the press for the problems they create is a new phenomenon, The Post reminds us that the fourth estate always has been a convenient scapegoat for those caught bending or breaking the law. The Post is a gripping reminder how vital freedom of the press is to those who are governed because of its role in keeping tabs on those who govern. The Post should remind us that when the press is under fire, it usually is because someone doesn’t want the public to see the smoke coming from their house. It was that way back in 1971 during the days of the Pentagon Papers, and one only needs to tune into the news today to see that some things haven’t changed.
You need to see The Post for a refresher course in how vital the press is to a free society.