The Post – movie review

by Peter Calder / 18 January, 2018
RelatedArticlesModule - The Post movie review

Meryl Streep shines in Steven Spielberg’s thrilling Nixon-era newspaper drama.

Towards the end of this richly engrossing and only occasionally too-earnest drama about a seminal moment in modern American history, the publisher of the Washington Post, Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep), emerges from the US Supreme Court, which has just overturned a White House injunction forbidding publication of the famous Pentagon Papers.

Avoiding the baying press pack (“We said everything we needed to say in there,” she says, to no one in particular), she descends the steps through a throng of admiring young women.

The point is made, perhaps not subtly but in passing, that among the many winners in the battle between the press and the Executive was a generation of women who saw a woman take on the big bad boys of Washington and beat them.

The Post is based on a spec script and rehit by Spotlight’s Oscar-winning scenarist Josh Singer, so it’s hard to know whom to credit with its many achievements. There are occasional lapses into expository dialogue, though they are more helpful than grating, and if the Big Speeches seem a little contrived (“The only way to protect the right to publish,” says Tom Hanks’s Ben Bradlee, “is to publish”), they make a historic story speak urgently to an age in which the US president can call New York Times stories “fake news”.

The film focuses on three weeks in mid-1971, from when the New York Times began publishing documents leaked by military analyst Daniel Ellsberg that showed four presidents had lied about the war in Vietnam and countless people on both sides had died in a conflict the US Government knew was doomed. When the Times was restrained, the Post, having obtained its own copies of the papers, picked up the story.

Graham is already a woman under siege: the paper, in financial trouble, is making a share offer and her money men are urging her not to spook the investors; the lawyers balefully predict imprisonment and ruin; and Bradlee, a newsman to his toenails, is arguing that “if the Government is telling us what we can and cannot print, the paper has already ceased to exist”.

Spielberg, with the style at once agile and stately that is his trademark, films all this in a headlong rush (which is what it must have been; the film was shot and cut in less than six months), cramming the frame with movement. For a movie that’s about people smoking and talking, it’s remarkably action-packed: a session at the photocopier is as thrilling as the jungle firefight that opens the film.

Hanks, at 61 the Jimmy Stewart of his generation, is terrific as Bradlee, but the film belongs to Streep, who manages to be its focal point without stealing the show or upstaging history. In the smallest of gestures (there’s a moment in which she conveys, by the slight adjustment of a chair, the stress she’s under), she reminds us of what was at stake and what desperate courage Graham displayed when having so much to lose. She’s the beating pulse of a film with a very big heart.

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★★★1/2

Video: 20th Century Fox

This article was first published in the January 20, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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