Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Liz Hannah & Josh Singer
The media has devolved in these times of social media. Social media means anyone with a cell phone and Twitter is capable of reporting the news, for better or for worse. Look, Twitter is great, and I love using it to keep up to date on a number of things. However, the number of “hot takes” and incorrectly reported stories is staggering when it comes to the citizen reporters who are often more obsessed with getting a story first rather than getting it right. The new cycle is now so fast and ever-changing, that the optics of a story are all the matter any more. Even if a story turns out to be be false, the stigma remains, as the court of public opinion now has the option to rule prior to due diligence and/or due process. The newspaper and proper media is so important to understanding the world and making rational decisions. We must fight to ensure that the process is preserved, both from false reports and improper impingement.
The Vietnam War lasted from 1955 to 1975, with US involvement causing plenty of controversy at home, including campus protests and public outcry. In 1971, the Washington Post was not the national newspaper it is today, or that it strove to be. New owner Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) and publisher Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) both hoped to expand the reach and voice of their paper. After the New York Times broke a story about a possible report by former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood), which chronicled a multi-administration cover-up of governmental knowledge of the the likelihood that the US would lose the war, Washington Post reporter Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) sought out an old source to bring the now famous “Pentagon Papers” to the public.
Even writing that summary of the film’s plot felt a little overbearing, dry and a bit boring, and the film begins a little slowly, but believe it or not Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks know how to make a good movie! The story speaks for itself, however, especially in the hands of such capable collaborators. It is very apparent that each and every member of the cast and crew believed deeply in this project, as it came together during the 11th hour, just in time to release this year. Spielberg expedited the process and ended up producing one of the best films of the year, precisely because he expedited it. The Post is as timely and important as any other film released this year, or perhaps in some time. It’s message should not be overlooked by anyone who sees it.
From a technical standpoint, The Post is perhaps no more impressive than any other film Spielberg has ever made. Good editing, solid cinematography, efficient storytelling. But where the film really soars is its timeliness and the ensemble performance from the stellar cast. Meryl Streep in particular is a marvel, which should surprise nobody at this point in her career. Perhaps she will finally win another Oscar, after having won just once in her last 16 nominations. She is so proficient at emoting and expressing in the smallest of moments, with just a mannerism. A true master. Bob Odenkirk is the other standout here in a supporting role as well. But overall the entire cast is stellar: Hanks, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitord, Sarah Paulson, Alison Brie, Jesse Plemons.
The timeliness is what makes this film a master work for me though, and one of the best and most important films of the year. With the ongoing battle between the current President and the media (apart from one outlet), this story hits very close to home for someone who didn’t live through the Vietnam War and Pentagon Papers story. It’s as relevant a story now as it was then, and that is what is so alarming about its narrative. I am sure this film will do very well during awards season, as Hollywood-types like to back a socially important film (and conservatives will point this out ad nauseam I’m sure).
But that is only one reason to love this movie. The truth should not be a partisan issue, and yet we often find ourselves at that very argument. This is a film about the truth, and its value. This is a film about how the people run the country in a democracy, not the government. I do not think this is the best film of the year. I do not think this will be a film that will necessarily hold up for years to come simply because it is such a film of its time. But nothing should be taken away from this experience for those reasons. For the here and now, this film is phenomenal, entertaining, engaging, and essentially important. Only context can teach future generations how good this film really is.