Editor’s Note: For anyone who may be confused seeing this style of review show up here, let me explain. This article was one I had originally written for the Daily Titan’s first spring 2018 issue. Though the movie had its official wide release on Jan. 12 and we find ourselves in the midst of Oscar season, it was decided a review of this particular flick wouldn’t be timely enough to go in print by the time we hit production.
But of course, as luck would have it, I had finished writing the article before finding out it wasn’t running.
So I decided to cannibalize my own work and put it out on my personal blog with some additional bits added on. After all, what would be the point of having a blog for my writing if I didn’t do that sort of thing, and what better time is there to share something like this than the day Oscar nominations have been announced? It is a best picture nominee after all, amongst other things.
Plus I figured this movie in particular fit the theme of my blog given that it surrounds an important part of journalism history.
That said, I’ll stop blabbing and let you get to my opinions. If you enjoy this sort of thing let me know, since I have been considering doing this kind of personal publishing more often.
In 1971, a series of classified documents known as The Pentagon Papers were leaked to and published by The New York Times, revealing multiple presidential opinions on the futility of the Vietnam War despite its escalation.
When the government attempted to censor this sensitive information publishing, other papers like The Washington Post stepped in to continue the job.
Steven Spielberg’s latest movie “The Post” captures this important period in American and journalistic history that brought The Washington Post to mainstream popularity while offering viewers a more intimate, behind-the-scenes glimpse at the paper’s struggle with deciding whether or not to publish The Pentagon Papers.
This struggle is chiefly characterized by the film’s two lead characters, The Washington Post’s publisher Katherine “Kay” Graham (Meryl Streep) and editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks).
Throughout the movie Graham must come to terms with being the first female publisher of a major newspaper after she inherits the business from her deceased husband.
Her inner turmoil comes from having to make the decision to potentially betray old family friends in the White House’s previous administrations so the public can learn the truth, while subsequently dealing with the “boy’s club” of publishers and investors who don’t believe a woman has what it takes to handle the job.
Meanwhile, Bradlee has to deal with the humiliation of losing such a huge scoop to The New York Times despite being the editor of Washington D.C.’s local paper, as well as the immense amount of work it takes for his team to secure a copy of the documents and go to print in a limited timeframe.
Eventually Bradlee also must come to terms with the fact that the potential illegality of publishing classified government documents may backfire on his longtime ally and friend Graham, who has much more at stake and much more to lose.
One of the standout means of building tension in the film comes from the way it showcases the more limited technologies available in the 1970s that led to more of an involved newsprint production process.
For example, one scene that comes to mind has a copy editor asked to do all of his red pen corrections on a physical printout of the major article in 30 minutes before sending it off in a pneumatic tube to be laid out on a more traditional printing press.
However, as interesting as it is to see the time period captured, where “The Post” truly shines is in its performances. It is hard to compare Hank’s depiction of Bradlee to the classic 1976 performance of Jason Robards in “All the President’s Men,” but Hanks does hold his own as a leading actor.
However, Hank’s performance is clearly overshadowed by Streep, who does an incredible job capturing the internal debate and eventual paradigm shift of Graham to support her staff and the First Amendment in spite of what the government would prefer.
Her arc is also given some clear signposts throughout the movie to show her role as a historically significant feminine figure, which Streep nails in facial expressions alone in scenes like her emergence from the Supreme Court toward the end of the story. In that moment she seems to ignore the primarily male-dominated crowd of journalists to instead focus on the passing businesswomen who have stopped to watch the commotion.
While Streep’s performance is undoubtedly the takeaway Oscar-nomination in “The Post” (and as it turns out, she did get nominated for it), there is hardly anything bad to say about the surrounding ensemble of characters either.
Unfortunately, performances are really the only place that “The Post” stands out. Despite having the legendary team of Spielberg as director and John Williams as composer, nothing about the presentation is necessarily exceptional.
The movie looks nice and sounds nice, is well-cast and well-written, but one would be hard pressed to walk out of the theatre after watching it and remember a particular image or score from the experience as something special that stays with them.
Even with this caveat, the performances and socio-historical importance backing up the movie make it undoubtedly worth seeing.
In an era begot by cries of “fake news” and the divisive presidency of Donald Trump, it is especially important to see this story come to the table in such a high-profile form to remind the world about the importance both of newspapers as a government watchdog and of the public staying informed with a higher degree of news literacy.
On top of that, “The Post” also fits in wonderfully with the strong legacy of journalism-based films.
Because of the way Spielberg uses the same Washington Post office set piece and ends the movie on a sort of cliffhanger teasing the start of the Watergate scandal, “The Post” and “All the President’s Men” could literally be watched in seamless succession to give anyone who did or did not live through the 1970s a clear understanding of the importance of newspapers, particularly The Washington Post, in American history.