If you know me, you know I am a huge supporter of Steven Spielberg for two reasons: 1. Because I feel an obligation to support my fellow Jews in the film industry; and 2. Because Spielberg is an American auteur if there ever was one. Spielberg has an uncanny ability to captivate audiences with his wits and a powerful roster of devoted talent and crew. He may very well be the Steve Kerr of Hollywood. With his latest op-ed on journalism and feminism, Spielberg finds himself back at home in the director’s chair doing what he does best. The Post (2017) may not be Spielberg’s most subversive film, but it draws parallels between the importance of journalism and feminism, and shows audiences that the struggles of 1971 are not far off from the struggles we faced in 2017, at a time when our president talks more about fake news than the issues at hand.
The year is 1971 and United States military analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) has just acquired the Pentagon Papers – a study that proved the U.S. government was responsible for systematically lying to the American people, through multiple presidencies, in an attempt to continue the Vietnam War to save the U.S. the embarrassment of losing. The papers fall into the hands of Washington Post reporters. At the Post, Editor-in-Chief Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) is going toe-to-toe with owner Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) in the wake of the Post going public and offering shares of the company on the stock exchange. The New York Times gets the jump on the Pentagon Papers, but soon enough receive an injunction from the Nixon Administration forbidding them from revealing any further information pertaining to them. It is now up to the Washington Post to either sit on these Papers or publish the world-changing stories they contain, with the risk of facing the full wrath of the U.S. government.
What stands out the most in The Post is the way Spielberg handles the (almost) lost grit that goes into journalism. There is an almost-noir feel throughout the movie as Tom Hanks’ Ben Bradlee and his team scramble to uncover the secrets of the Papers, all while trying to convince owner Graham to publish as the clock ticks. Spielberg skips the dropped calls and dead ends of the investigating and gives you a precise and succinct love letter to how serious journalism is (and should) be taken. Everyone involved in this movie takes their jobs seriously – both in front of and behind the camera. Spielberg shines in his use of montage to showcase the time and persistence that goes into not only developing the stories, but printing the physical newspapers as well. Couple that with the immortal John Williams’ score throughout the picture, and it makes for a fun insight into the roots of the press and the time that used to be spent on each individual print.
Spielberg also uses his film to display the rampant misogyny Kay Graham faced in her career. Much like Hillary Clinton, Graham finds herself in a position dominated by men who make no effort to value her and every effort to undermine her. Inequality for women is nothing new. Women have been and are still consistently mistreated in every male-dominated industry. We need more films like The Post to tell men and women around the world that inequality’s time is up and this confrontation is long overdue. Sarah Paulson as Bradlee’s wife Tony has a great moment in this film, in which she encourages her husband to see life through Graham’s eyes and understand that she has the most to lose should the Post publish the Pentagon Papers. Usually the devoted wife gets her scene with protagonist/husband to tell him, “You’re doing amazing, sweetie,” before going back to their kids. I love that Spielberg takes time to include a scene such as this one and lets Paulson shine as a beacon for Ben Bradlee rather than as a Susie Q. As Kay Graham, Meryl Streep is simply perfect. She shows restraint with a simple glance, and each sly remark she gives to a room full of men is simply empowering. There are more than a few actresses in Hollywood that exude such strength; but there is no denying Streep is still the G.O.A.T. The Meryl Streep you see in this film is the same Meryl Streep who received the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the Golden Globes and used her speech as an opportunity to call out our president on his cruelty. To say she is perfect as Kay Graham is an understatement.
The best part about The Post is that Streep does not need to carry the movie on her shoulders (as if she couldn’t). Tom Hanks and the rest of the cast give performances that feel lived-in – making stakes feel all the more real. Bob Odenkirk and David Cross stand out as Washington Post reporters, and everywhere you turn there is another cameo or familiar face. It’s always great to see well-known actors show up where you least expect them AND deliver a solid enough performance to make them feel firmly in-place. My only conclusion about all of this talent under one roof is that they must genuinely enjoy working with Spielberg; and only Spielberg could pool such talented individuals together and not make the movie feel too crowded.
While you may know the outcome of the Pentagon Papers, The Post never feels boring. Stellar performances from Streep and Hanks, coupled with Spielberg’s direction and Williams’ compositions (Williams calling his scores ‘experiences’ is more than warranted) make what could have been a bland “investigative movie” into an idyllic drama with real-world stakes. While Spielberg uses most of his collaborators for the movie, I’m not too fond of his cinematographer Janusz Kaminski’s obsession with blasting light through windows as if you would need two million degree sunblock if you stepped outside.
The Post is more than relevant to today’s times and the integrity of the free press. Spielberg acknowledges the importance of a movie like this but never comes off as conceited when telling it. Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks prove once again why they’re the most beloved stars in Hollywood, and they share the limelight with a handful of other talents working at the top of their game. Steven Spielberg is an all-time director and I am an advocate for these period piece/historical dramas he has grown keen for over the past decade, versus his more recent sci-fi stints. I’m nervous for his next film Ready Player One (2018) because I read the book and it’s a massive 80s nostalgia bomb in your face bound to be oversaturated and crowded; but knowing Spielberg is sitting in the director’s chair running the floor, my heart flutters a little less.