“The Post” (2017)
Written by: Liz Hannah & Josh Singer
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Featuring: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Carrie Coon, and Matthew Rhys
Ben Bradlee: The way they lied, those days have to be over.
This should have been a year of protest, where Hollywood made comments on the past two years of US politics as well as the social injustice that has taken on new meaning, not only in America, but on the global stage. All I can say is that I am happy Steven Spielberg decided not only to say something, but to make one of the best movies of 2017, with only a few days to spare. After a lackluster 2016 with the poorly received as well as poorly adapted “The BFG” (2016) it was inevitable that Spielberg would bounce back, he has with this period piece, featuring a stunning story set over a short amount of time to remind us that we have been here before, not only that but we will probably be here again. The US is not the only country divided in the world, there seems to be many movements worldwide where people are split down the middle, one need only look at recent election results. This film reminds us of a time in US history where the divide was the norm, not the exception – in these Trumpian times “The Post” (2017) tells us the fifth estate was a beacon to be listened to, trusted as well as truly ground breaking – not the hollow institution that is touted from the White House with their own version of the ‘truth’.
There is no doubt that Steven Spielberg is not only the most successful producer/director of all time, with numerous box office hits dating back to the 1970s, but he is also one of the few people who is able to choose his projects as well as get any movie green lit on a whim. He has nothing left to prove to anyone which gives him the freedom to make movies like the completely underrated and prescient “Bridge of Spies” (2015) and now “The Post”. Of course because Spielberg seems to have alwas been at the top of his game he is able to work with longtime collaborators Tom Hanks, Janusz Kaminski, John Williams, Michael Kahn and so many more, all legendary figures in their own right. He is also able to corral new co-workers, Meryl Streep stands out here in her first Spielberg film.
“The Post” tells the story of a cover-up that spanned four U.S. Presidents pushed the country’s first female newspaper publisher, Kay Graham (Streep) of The Washington Post, and its hard-driving editor, Ben Bradlee (Hanks), to join an unprecedented battle between journalist and government in publishing the Pentagon Papers.
In terms of the world in which we live right now “The Post” may be producer/director Steven Spielberg’s most important film to date, which is saying something, not only about his own oeuvre but also the very real themes and subjects this film deals with. Not only does the film address one of the central tenants of US life, that is the freedom of the press, it also attempts to show how one of the branches of government can and does try to suppress it, to protect itself from truths that could tear the country apart. Of course this has repercussions right through to the present where we have a President who is potentially infringing on the rights of the media as well as calling out legitimate organization as fake news, something his supporters are behind and of course his many detractors against. All these years on from the period of the film, the two newspapers, ‘The Washington Post’ as well as ‘The New York Times’ are two of the largest papers Trump has an issue with as they go after him in a huge ways, not seen since those years of the Nixon White House. The unfortunate aspect of todays media world is that with the rise of Social Media newspapers have been depowered as well as devalued to a point where many people view feeds rather than purchase and read actual newspapers. We are witnessing a slow erosion of what it is to be in the media as well as how these outlets operate in a society where officials can make up facts and lie to their constituents without any repercussions or harm to their standing in society – something that Nixon attempted to do but failed as there were a few reporters asking some basic questions, not receiving answers that added up.
There is of course a flipside to this pro-media film, which is not pretty, and exists because of a shift towards news organizations serving a profit motive in the pursuit of ratings as well as clicks, likes and shares. The larger question is where was this fourth estate in 2015 and 2016 when Trump was making his move to the Presidency as well as showing exactly what kind of person he is, and has lived up to be – a clueless sexist racist slob who has no real right to run a country or even be listened to. The answer of course is that the media not only pandered to him but gave him time to make a case for the Presidency while not warning the public to the real threat to the people (and the world) that would eventually vote him to the highest seat of power in the US. This is something that this film does not address even though it could through the lens of history by juxtaposing the power of the media as well as its possible blindness to issues that were not treated with any real seriousness.
“The Post” also is quick to point out through its highlighting of how huge the ‘Pentagon Papers’ were, that in fact it was the Wiki-leaks of its day, not only that but the resources that the newspapers had was limited, there were no computers to crunch data or sort through thousands of pages to bring information to the front – this was an analogue time when digital technology would have been a price above rubies. There is also a strong thread of public responsibility versus government secrets that is talked about as well as illustrated through the use of lawyers. It also follows the common sense that leads to the release of the papers, knowing the impact this will have on the public at large as well as what it will mean for the government – this to is something that news organizations had to deal with when Assange leaked information to the world – these are somber thoughts knowing how close information is guarded by those in power.
Of course apart from the meanings behind the film there are some great performances, as you would expect from Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, the leads, marking the first time they have appeared onscreen together. At this stage of both actors careers there is no real need to say how great or talented they are, both inhabit their roles interpreting these real life characters who were both much larger than life, as well as having more to them than what is seen onscreen. What is needed to be said however is that as an audience we have seen these two so much that there is the possibility that we take their skill as two of the greatest film actors as granted – we expect the excellence we see so it is diminished somewhat which is a fault of the audience and not the performers. Whilst Streep has attracted yet another Oscar nomination this year, it is Hanks who has not received a nomination since “Cast Away” (2000) which is a crime, one that needs to be rectified in the coming years. As you would expect the film is rounded out with multiple character actors who give voice to the secondary players in this tumultuous story, in particular it is Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford and Bruce Greenwood who stand out with roles that seem to have been made for them, they are all fantastic.
Spielberg as director, with cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and John Williams utilizing score keep this film as low key as possible, there are no tricks to move attention from actors or the story which are the real stars of this film. All three have worked together for so long that they know what is required in a true story, they have made multiple films based on real events or people, they know that anything that is done is carried out in the name of their subjects. The strength that they have is that the motivation to forgo plot for something that might be more palatable is not needed as the champion this film has in Spielberg means profit is not the only motive unlike other true stories – something I think news organizations could take a cue from.
The past few months has seen the release of many excellent films, all tackling very real as well as very different subjects, some have been contemporary, whilst others have been period pieces, there have been many different themes explored, maybe more so than any other time in the history of Hollywood which speaks to the creative as well as producers who help fund these movies. What is most interesting is that “The Post” is a film that is about white men within the corridors of power with one exception that is the character of Kay Graham who as the lone woman in this story is operating in and around men who are not used to deferring to powerful women – in this the film really enters its stride in particular with the scenes between Graham and Robert McNamara who spar about the truth rarely seen on film.
If you have not yet seen “The Post” you are missing out on a great film with equally great performances, it is not too be missed and in any other year would be odds on favorite for a clutch if awards, but sadly I think these will mostly go elsewhere – it best hope it Streep, but that could be said in any year. This is a must see and may make you look at the media in a different light.
“The Post” is out now only in cinemas.