Meryl Streep. Tom Hanks. Steven Spielberg. You mention one of these lauded names and you’re bound to grab someone’s attention. You group all of them in the same sentence, and well you’ve got something altogether phenomenal. And that’s exactly what Speilberg’s The Post is a phenomenal piece of filmmaking that makes a brave and bold stance for the importance and power of the press and the necessity of courage and action in the most trying of times.
1971. America is reeling from the fallout of the Vietnam War and a collection of clandestine documents winds up on the doorstep of The Washington Post’s editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks). In front of Bradlee is the story of a lifetime, one that could shake-up and rearrange the very essence of power in America, but it’s not his call to publish it. That decision rests on the Washington Post’s publisher, Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep) who must decide what stance her paper is going to do: to either walk the line of the status quo or champion the power of the free press.
Taking centre stage in The Post is living legend Meryl Streep who effortlessly walks into the role of Katherine ‘Kay’ Graham, herself another legendary powerful woman who served as the publisher of her family’s newspaper, and an American Institution, The Washington Post. However, her greatest triumph is still some time away and here Kay is still essentially trying to find herself as she recovers from the recent loss of her husband, and is facing mounting pressures as she takes her company public. The last thing she needs is to manage a potential crisis that could upset the established political order and call into question the actions of the Nixon government. But that’s of course where she finds herself.
It’s in this situation, where her leadership is being called into question that Streep really shines as she showcases the slowly burning fire that leads Graham to triumph. Streep’s performance is very reserved and business-like and she keeps a veneer of tranquillity which makes her very hard to read, but it is clear that in private she is wrestling with some very big issues. Gradually as the film progresses she slowly addresses the crisis, waiting until she has all the facts to make a stand and challenge the status quo.
Standing beside Streep in The Post is another screen legend, Tom Hanks, who is full of dogged determination as Ben Bradlee, the energetic and charismatic editor of The Washington Post who wants to do everything in his power to release the story of The Pentagon Papers.
Streep and Hanks make an interesting pair as Graham and Bradlee on screen and the two of them each bring a different perspective to how the release of this epic and challenging story should be released through the Post. They compliment each other brilliantly, but Hanks understands his role as Bradlee and while he is a very pushy character you sense that whatever decision Graham makes he will stand by it.
One could almost be forgiven for forgetting that The Post is, in fact, a Steven Spielberg film. This is such in keeping with the incredible performances from both Streep and Hanks that you forget to think about the Spielberg’s acting as a director. But this is not to say that he does not do a terrific job, on the contrary, his ability to keep his audiences attention focused squarely on the situation that they find themselves in. The Post is not an overly stylized film and Speilberg plays it very straight. Through this, your attention never wanders from the decisions that are facing Graham and Bradley and the film is all the more gripping for it.
The Post is also an incredibly important film that champions the power of the free press and its role in holding government and other higher powers to accountability. It’s production and release is a very timely event, especially in the wake of America’s rocky political standing and the era of ‘fake news’ and specially targeted media that is now used to shape a person’s opinion and beliefs. Speilberg makes a real effort to highlight how important our free media is and that we should never take it for granted. His is a message that the media is a space where one can have a powerful voice and that with good guidance and the right people the press can, in fact, make a difference for all of society.
The Post is an extremely powerful film and one that’s gripping story and powerful performances command your attention from its very first frame. It’s essential viewing in the times that we live in and audiences would do well to watch it.
Image: EOne Films