It’s fair to say that respect for the press has reached an all-time low, and not just because of the White House’s cries of “Fake News” – desperate to appease shareholders, our once-esteemed organisations have resorted to producing clickbait to keep their companies profitable. Articles like those are enough to make one long for the days of more professional journalism.
Such a time was 1971, a year in which the New York Times began publishing a series of news stories about the ongoing Vietnam War. In said stories, the Times alleged that the previous governments of the United States knew they were in a losing battle against North Vietnam, despite telling the American people otherwise. Their evidence came in the form of classified government documents, copied and leaked to them by former analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys).
With the articles on Vietnam doing gangbusters for the Times’ business, competitors like the Washington Post – led by editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and publisher Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) – are being left behind, and beginning to feel the metaphorical pinch. But after the Nixon administration orders the Times to stop printing the articles, Bradlee senses an opportunity to increase his paper’s readership, and so instructs his staff to track-down the source of the Vietnam stories.
Directed by Steven Spielberg, The Post marks two significant milestones for the film industry. Firstly, it is the acclaimed director’s first collaboration with Streep who, remarkably, has never appeared in a Spielberg until now. Secondly, it is the first time Streep has co-starred in a film with Hanks, a frequent Spielberg collaborator and one of the most popular figures in Hollywood. What’s more extraordinary is how the pair exude a natural, effortless chemistry from the moment they appear on-screen, despite never having worked together.
Joining the two leads is an excellent supporting cast, packed with familiar faces that inhabit their roles brilliantly. Among that group is Bruce Greenwood as the former Secretary of Defence, Robert McNamara; Alison Brie (The Disaster Artist) as Graham’s daughter Lally; Bob “Saul” Odenkirk as the reporter tasked with finding the leaks, Ben Bagdikian; and an almost unrecognisable David “Tobias” Cross as fellow journalist Howard Simons. For all of these actors to sink into these roles, without drawing attention to themselves, is highly commendable.
One other aspect of The Post to be admired is how the film depicts the inner-workings of a newspaper. In an age where most news is produced digitally, it’s interesting to see how the industry operated without the use of computers – there’s an abundance of typewriters and pneumatic tubes to be found in the offices of the Washington Post, while underneath them sits a giant, mechanical printing press where the layout of the paper is arranged by hand. Maybe it’s a millennial thing, but from a personal perspective, it’s utterly fascinating to see.
Sadly, the plot of The Post is less enthralling, and not just because the viewer already knows the outcome. While the film carries itself at a reasonably brisk pace, and is noticeably shorter than many of Spielberg’s other works, there isn’t enough within for The Post to be classed as entertaining – despite the occasional laugh. Particularly tiresome is a subplot involving Graham placing her newspaper on the public stock exchange, an act which has a negligible impact on the film’s central conflict.
The Post may not be Steven Spielberg’s greatest triumph, but it remains a well-directed drama, thanks largely to its solid cast – and some very subtle allusions to present-day events. If you take an interest in politics or journalism, even if it’s only causal, then this is definitely a film worth checking out.