A little hashtag that summarises the current President of the United States’ attitude towards the Press. With the media covering all manner of stories pertaining to the Donald and his behind-the-scenes antics, their relationship can best be described as tumultuous.
In light of Trump’s criticisms, a great many have come to the defense of the media, protecting its right to post what it believes to be the truth; revelations that the general population deserves to know. One such advocate is director Steven Spielberg, who had responded by forwarding the production of his newest release, The Post, citing its relevance as his motive.
However, right off the bat, what must be made apparent is that The Post is far from a reactionary propaganda piece: this isn’t Spielberg’s attempt to shadow Oliver Stone and his politically inclined filmmaking. Instead, Spielberg has opted for the subtler approach, crafting an appealing, entertaining drama that engages with a number of topical themes, but never in a manner that feels blunt, excessive or obvious.
So just what is The Post about that makes it so pertinent? Well, without surrendering too much narrative information, The Post recounts the Pentagon Papers Scandal of the 70s, in which members of The Washington Post, led by Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) and Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), made the difficult decision to release confidential and damning information regarding America’s involvement with Vietnam, in spite of the threats made by President Nixon to silence said reporters.
Now, this might seem a little on-the-nose in terms of mirroring current events: government secrets, media exposure, president who doesn’t want to play ball. However, Spielberg underplays these similarities with grace, only providing the necessary commentary when it best serves the film’s narrative. The Post is certainly willing to tackle the delicate issues of power, the risk of truth and the undeniable corruption that rests at the heart of any political institution. But it never strays too far from its subject matter, always embedding such discussions within its period and through its players.
The Post is, simply put, a superbly scripted piece of storytelling, juggling a number of participants, but with enough attention that we get a handle on who’s who and what their part to play is. There’s no outlier within the cast: Spielberg and his writers Liz Hannah and Josh Singer are efficient in their distribution of character moments. Of course the key players, represented here by Streep and Hanks, are dished out the major turning points. But even the likes of Jesse Plemons, Zach Woods and Sarah Paulson, to name but a few, are given their time to shine with snappy dialogue and maybe even a monologue or two. Paulson in particular is provided a wonderful speech, imbued with a reflective melancholy over the position of women in history: it’s poignant, reflective yet uplifting.
And yet, it’s Streep and Hanks’ show. It’s almost a cliché at this point to say Streep and Hanks deliver the goods, because they’re uniformly unmatched in Hollywood, in terms of charisma and characterisation. Nevertheless, Hanks provides a stern sense of authority and determination that, with any other actor, would come across as mere stoicism. Yet he manages to balance these qualities with an undercurrent of humour and charm that immediately draws you into Ben’s tenacious drive to publish the documents.
However, Streep is the one to truly marvel at, not just in terms of her own work, but the way in which Spielberg utilises her within the wider narrative. See, The Post isn’t just about political corruption and the freedom of the press. All the more prevalently, as hinted at earlier with reference to Paulson’s speech, it’s about women in the workplace and the misogynist attitudes that one finds thriving there.
So it is with great pleasure that The Post also chooses to focus on the rise of powerful women, ready to stand on their own two feet: we see this embodied in Streep’s subtle yet brilliant performance. She evolves from a subdued head at a domineeringly masculine boardroom table, to a feisty, liberated lead publisher who’s always willing to listen and yet isn’t afraid to have the final say: it certainly had me feeling inspired by the film’s end.
Adding to this, it must be said that Janusz Kamiński’s cinematography does surprising wonders in fleshing out Streep’s arc. There are the usual flourishes that Kamiński brings to any of Spielberg’s productions: saturated light plays its part, the occasional handheld moment that adds a rugged intensity to the edge-of-your-seat sequences. But there are a number of shots that beautifully apprehend the struggle that Katharine Graham faces throughout the film. From a wonderful early tracking shot down a hallway that cleverly frames Graham’s male colleagues in a way that eclipses her as she attempts to involve herself in the discussion, to a beautifully contrasted wide-shot that catches Graham as she descends a flight of stairs, surrounded by an entire crowd of women who gaze at her in awe and respect as a woman willing to stand for herself, Kamiński’s visual touches are all at the service of the characters, indicative of The Post‘s wider ambition to promote women and their position in society.
But even with its fantastic performances and Kamiński’s polished photography, The Post does suffer from a rushed final act. With all of the nerve-wracking build-up, accentuated by John Williams’ urgent score, it’s a shame that Spielberg delivers the final catharsis in a short sequence that glosses over what could have been a definitive courtroom sequence. Unlike in his underrated biopic Lincoln, The Post, having settled into a thriller-esque rhythm in its latter half, drops the payload far too quickly, brushing off what is touted throughout the film as a potentially crippling scenario.
It doesn’t detract from an otherwise exemplary experience however. The Post is demonstrative of a director in complete control of his craft. In recent years, it seemed as though Spielberg was a little unsure of what kind of director he wanted to be. But with films like The Post, it seems as though he’s found his footing. This is an expertly-paced, thrillingly shot and perfectly performed piece that has more than a little whiff of timeliness to it, and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.