The Post review: an all-too relevant film about the importance of press freedom

Friday, 19th January 2018, 9:17 am
Updated Friday, 19th January 2018, 9:17 am

★★★★

Review by Matthew Turner

Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep headline this rousing and timely drama from director Steven Spielberg.

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Scripted by Liz Hannah (with a polish from Spotlight writer Josh Singer), the film centres on the Washington Post's decision to publish the Pentagon Papers in 1971.

However, though the film depicts events from 46 years ago, the resonance of the message about the importance of press freedom couldn't be clearer, particularly with the open contempt shown to the press by the current U.S. President.

The film begins with military analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) leaking the top secret Pentagon Papers – which revealed that the U.S. government knew the Vietnam War was unwinnable - to the New York Times.

When the Times is hit with an injunction, Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee (Hanks) gets a hold of his own copy of the files and has to decide whether his paper will publish them, potentially risking jail-time for himself and his employees and the future of the Post itself.

However, the final decision rests with the Post's publisher, socialite Katharine Graham (Streep), who inherited the paper from her late husband and has close ties to the government, not least through her friendship with Defense Secretary Bob McNamara (Bruce Greenwood).

A love letter to traditional journalism

As the film explores journalism's relationship to power and the tensions between them, the central theme becomes all-too relevant, its significance loudly trumpeted by Hanks' Bradlee when he declares: "We have to be a check on their power - if we don’t, who will?"

Given the resonance of the film with today's political situation, it comes as no surprise to learn that Spielberg and his team shot and edited The Post in less than six months, with the director basically completing the entire thing in between waiting for effects shots on upcoming blockbuster Ready Player One.

Effectively functioning as a direct prequel to 1976's All the President's Men, The Post is a veritable love letter to traditional print journalism, with Spielberg even going so far as to include a pleasingly indulgent, classic-movie-style montage of the process itself, up to and including the print being set, the presses rolling and the finished papers being delivered.

Hanks and Streep are a joy to watch in the lead roles, both firmly within their comfort zones and clearly enjoying themselves, sparking engaging chemistry in the process.

Streep's part involves an equally powerful subplot, because The Post is also the story of Graham learning to wield the power she inherited, in defiance of the wishes of the all-male board (represented by Bradley Whitford) who keep trying to manipulate her decisions.

Spielberg holds our interest

There's also top-notch support from a superb ensemble cast that includes Bob Odenkirk as Ben Bagdikian (the Post reporter who pursues the papers), Sarah Paulson as Bradlee's tell-it-like-it-is wife and Jesse Plemons as the Post's nervous young lawyer.

Admittedly, there's not much in the way of suspense, since the outcome of the film is well known. But Spielberg holds our interest throughout with snappy, fast-paced dialogue, captivating performances and the occasional inspired directorial touch, such as using the actual Nixon tapes alongside a shot of a figure on the phone in the White House, glimpsed through a telephoto lens.

Director: Steven SpielbergStarring: Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Rhys, Bob Odenkirk, Michael Stuhlbarg, Sarah Paulson, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Alison Brie, Jessie Mueller, Jesse Plemons, David Cross, Carrie Coon, Zach WoodsGenre: DramaCountry: United StatesRelease date: 19 January, 2018Cert: 12ARunning time: 116 mins