‘The Post’: A lucid ode to journalism … writes Troy Ribeiro
Film: “The Post”; Director: Stephen Speilberg; Cast: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Rhys, Alison Brie, Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons, David Cross and Zach Woods; Rating: ***
Director Stephen Speilberg’s “The Post” is a political thriller that documents a moment in history where the scales are tipped toward corruption in the system.
Despite the events in the film taking place nearly five decades ago, it would be irrelevant to go through a full discussion around it without mentioning its relevance and more so its poignancy in relation to the present state of the world and the leaders that are in power who utilise their authority for personal gain and favourable poll numbers rather than in the interest of world peace.
Spielberg makes no direct indication of his intent, the opportunistic quality of the project is enough to suggest as much. It is a wake-up call for the media to remind them that “the press is to serve the governed, not the governors”.
The film is also a cleverly made prequel of sorts to director Alan J. Pakula’s “All The President’s Men”, which detailed Washington Post’s investigative journalism that uncovered the Watergate scandal.
A couple of years prior to Watergate, after an encounter with the Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood), Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), a military analyst for The Rand Corporation who travelled to Vietnam as an observer of the war, released The Pentagon Papers to The New York Times, Washington Post and other newspapers.
These top secret documents revealed that the war in Vietnam was manipulated by the American government and it could not be won. Yet, it “sent boys to die” — this they did largely to avoid the humiliation of the American defeat.
These papers were brought to the attention of Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and its struggling publisher Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep), setting off a series of moral, ethical, economic and legal conflicts.
Bradlee and his team of journalists, which includes Ben Bagdikaian (Bob Odenkirk), Howard Simons (David Cross) and Meg Greenfield (Carrie Coon), unearth the remaining Pentagon papers dealing in these Vietnam affairs after the US Attorney General specifically requests The Times to refrain from further publication of these documents.
Then US President Richard Nixon’s administration threatens the newspapers with a violation of the Espionage Act, which could send them all to prison, leaving Graham and Bradlee with some tough decisions to make.
Bradlee is pushing to publish the remainder of these papers so as to take The Post from being a local Daily to a National Daily. The tale comes across as a tug of war, constantly keeping the audience wondering if The Post will publish the papers or not.
The narrative in the initial stage is complex, overstretched and a little monotonous at times with the endless discussions occurring either in mansions or newsrooms. And these fine details get a bit tedious to absorb. Once this is ironed out, things get simple. It is easy to digest. There is a sequence late in the film that chronicles the assembly of the next morning’s edition that is truly fascinating in that it shows how much things have changed as well as how much work was required in order to make a deadline in those heydays of print.
Hanks and Streep deliver performances we have come to expect from the powerhouses that they are. The supporting cast stands out mostly in scenes where Odenkirk is sent on a mission to recover the papers.
Brie also holds her own in scenes with Streep as they communicate a genuine, but unique mother-daughter relationship. The likes of Jesse Plemons and Zach Woods show up as lawyers on the payroll of The Post to help guide its staff in their efforts to publish a story around these leaked documents that inadvertently causes a fair amount of tension.
Overall, “The Post” is a smart, complex, non-superhero film with a super-hero style tag that is astutely told on a big canvas.