This package is going to need a 2nd class stamp only.
The year is 1971, Richard Nixon is the president of the United States and America is waging through the Vietnam War. A Defense Department analyst Daniel Elsberg (Matthew Rhys) decides to uncover the truth by stealing the “Pentagon Papers”; an investigation detailing how the American government knew the was was unwinnable but continued to send in troops in order to avoid humiliation of defeat.
The New York Times were first on hand to publish the news; until Nixon placed an injunction preventing them from printing anymore. The opportunity then lands at The Washington Post where the lady in charge is Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep); and her second in command is editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks). Creative differences aside, they understand that the importance of oublishing these papers is far greater than themselves. Therefore, they risk their employed, their paper and their lives trying to make that happen.
A disliked figure of authority attempting to silence the free speech of the press – sound familiar? The most societally fitting film of the year is The Post hands down. Steven Spielberg’s shiny new drama is a brilliant example of taking an historic story and relating it to a modern audience; especially the kind suffering Trump America right now. Newspapers are a slow, dying breed that I bet if you asked some kids nowadays; they probably haven’t even read one. This old fashioned method of communication is brought to attention by Spielberg at just how powerful this was to Americans in the 70’s.
Let’s start with a bit of a history lesson as this is a true story after all. The ‘Pentagon Papers’ was an investigation into ‘Vietnam Relations’ dating from 1946 to 1967; created by Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara. This was his way of keeping an historic record of process so future administrations could learn from it. Within these reports however, lay not only 3 decades of proof of growing US involvement toward the war; but also how the government were lying about the American progress during the war. From Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson up until the Nixon era, these secrets were kept from the public. Proposed operations, help in electing and assassinating a president, even forming policies affecting Vietnam.
As a personal fan of American Presidential history, I was shocked that I hadn’t known this level of detail about such a major event in American historical politics. Superseding the Watergate scandal which Spielberg depicted in ‘All The Presidents Men’, many critics have affirmed that The Post doesn’t live up to the reputation of it’s counterpart. Perhaps true, but that doesn’t mean that this is a bad film; it’s actually quite good. What can be deemed a dull subject for most, is transformed into a journalistic thriller for all audience’s to relate to. The level of loyalty running deep throughout the film proves a worthy attachment to make you want to carry on watching. That said, I don’t believe the movie is anything special.
Written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer (Oscar winner for 2015’s Spotlight, which I have similar feelings for) I felt like the script lacked depth. It seemed more explanatory than immersive which unfortunately doesn’t sit right with me. In a way, Spielberg seems over-qualified for this simplicity. His touch still shines brightly through the beautiful visuals but the wonder that comes with a Spielberg film just isn’t there.
With the two acting heavy weights of Hanks and Streep, the expectations were high and of course, they succeeded. Their dynamic is conflicted to begin with; both stubborn big timers with Graham more so subtly dangling herself within the jaws of Bradlees sharp mouth. Hanks excels at nailing Bradlees’s fierce friendliness whilst upholding his ragged charisma through his straight talking that keeps him stuck to his core values. You can smell his ambition from a mile away; yet his intentions are kind and Hanks makes it seem like an effortless job as always. Streep has the heavier hand to carry as the conflicted Mrs Graham.
Her father owned the newspaper who then handed control to her husband Phillip Graham; it seems like a low blow but that’s just how things worked. It was only after her husband’s suicide that Katherine took over as publisher. In her male dominated world, we see Katherine struggle to have her own voice; the board members manipulate and patronize her because they cannot take a woman seriously in charge. Another very relatable theme to current events. With little faith in herself, Streep constructs a delicate and nuanced transformation of character. Layer by layer, she builds a confident resilience as a woman and a boss that leaves you cheering her corner when *spoiler alert*; she instructs the paper to publish the papers and puts everything on the line.
In the build up to her decision, there are some great scenes of tension mainly filled by Bob Odenkirk who portrays reporter Ben Bagdikian. In the analog era of reporting, the chase is much more excitable rather than just sitting at one screen to do it all. The hunt is carried out using pay phones and meeting in dodgy motels, ultimately ending in a scene where the Papers are flown to DC on their own special seat. Odenkirk is a great addition to the drama and does a terrific job of bringing seriousness with a streamline of comedy to his role.
Having one of the best directors in the world amplifying a message such as the ones described above are the reason why people will connect to this film. It’s a dramatic tale full of a variety of dynamics that highlight the importance of unsung heroes and strong principles. Steven Spielberg’s visual storytelling is superb but is let down by a mediocre script that leaves it falling short of first class.
What is first class however, are the two compelling leads that we have waited a lifetime to finally work together. Streep and Hanks are dynamite together and light this picture into a bonfire of magic. Who knows when we could get to see this again? An history lesson and a master class in acting – god I love awards season.
3 and a half out of 5 typewriters