The Post is one of those movies you go into just knowing it’s going to be good. Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep and Stephen Spielberg? I mean, how could that possibly go wrong. In fact, you know it’s going to be good so you kind of set your expectations even higher thinking it won’t reach them. Yea, Streep is going to be good, but I bet she won’t be that good. Spielberg turned this around pretty quickly so I don’t think it’ll be his best. “Clearly they’re just shooting for an Oscar here,” you jadedly think.
Of course these are the most skilled folks in the industry doing what they do best so they knock it out of the park, and you come out from seeing it not just enthralled by how they could all once again beat expectations, but do it in an entirely different way from their previous efforts. Your cynicism subdued you realize you’ve watched a timely film that somehow tackles a plethora of current topics while still being an incredible character study. The Post is as good as it should be, and probably better, and that makes it perfectly normal for this group.
Director: Stephen Spielberg
Release Date: January 12, 2018
Since it’s painfully obvious we all need a history lesson about the freedom of press, and it’s important role in keeping the government and corporations in check, The Post is the story of how Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep), the first female publisher of a major U.S. Newspaper, boldly defied the Nixon administration’s attempts to silence the press when they got their hands on reports that the U.S. government had known for years that Vietnam was an unwinnable war. After the New York Times first landed the story, the Nixon administration attempted to shut them down through the courts, but Ben Bradley (Tom Hanks), the editor of the Washington Post at the time, had discovered the leaked documents as well, setting up a showdown over whether the newspaper should publish them or not.
It doesn’t exactly sound like an edge of your seat thriller; a bunch of people sitting around debating if they should look at and write about some papers. It is, however. The film is a stark look into the very idea that the government could silence the press because they don’t like what’s being said about it. It’s all too relevant to current events, but Spielberg never forces the comparisons. He keeps the story contained, as Katharine Graham struggles with a group of men yelling at her to do one thing or another. By doing so the film never feels preachy in its messaging, allowing the audience to draw their own comparisons to both the current administration and the social movements in feminism.
It helps that Spielberg just knows how to keep a story tight. A lot of the conflict in the film comes from the debate over whether to publish or not, but the film also weaves in themes about how our faith in government has slowly eroded and who should control a story. Graham and her family were closely linked with many of the people who were part of the cover up, and the personal betrayal she feels is a powerful motivator in her decisions. Spielberg knows to make the movie not just about the leak, but about Graham as well.
He does this wonderfully with the expertise help of Streep, whose performance is once again amazing. Not just, amazing in how you expect either. She appears to completely change who she is, pulling in Kathleen Graham’s insecurities and strengths and turning out a performance the likes of which she’s never delivered before. Meryl Streep never plays Meryl Streep in a movie, and it’s one of her greatest strengths. I personally thought I’d come out of the film thinking it was just another great performance, but was floored by how completely she embodied the character. Half her best moments are simply from slight changes in facial expression or the right look at the right time. Graham is a fantastic character too. Her growth from a struggling widow into a powerful publisher is a fantastic story encapsulated wonderfully by the film.
The rest of the cast (probably the only time I’ll refer to Tom Hanks in that way), is great too. There’s not really a weak link here, though Bradley Whitford has to be tired of playing over-the-top racist and chauvinists. The interplay between everyone is sharp and tactful, and it never seems like a bit of dialog is wasted. There’s entire scenes constructed over telephones that could have turned into a series of sloppy and boring cuts, but are instead tense and dramatic interactions, anchored by Streep’s nuanced performance.
The thing about The Post is that it’s perfectly normal for the collection of talent in it, but perfectly normal for them is simply fantastic. I wouldn’t say that anyone outside of Streep does anything that stunned me, but that still means that the best people in the business made a film that lived up to their lofty standards. It helps that the movie seems so perfectly made for today as it touches on both journalistic integrity, corrupt government, and feminism in smart and powerful ways. The Post is simply a great film, but it’s also a great message.