I’ve said it numerous times before, but I’ll state, once again, that Tom Hanks is my all-time favorite actor. There’s absolutely no way I would miss any of his films in the theater, but team him up with Steven Spielberg and Meryl Streep and I don’t see how anyone with decent taste could resist. If that trio isn’t the objectively greatest of our generation within their own fields of filmmaking, then they are almost certainly the most beloved. In The Post, Spielberg, Hanks, and Streep come together like Voltron to tackle an historical event that is also sadly more topical and relevant in today’s world than it should ever realistically be.
When evidence is leaked that four consecutive presidential administrations participated in a cover-up regarding the United States’ military strategy and foreign relations during the Vietnam War, journalists at both the New York Times and the Washington Post are faced with the decision to sit on the information in their possession (known as the Pentagon Papers) or publish the truth to the public and face the full wrath of the cowardly, corrupt, and tyrannical President Richard Nixon.
Streep portrays the first female newspaper publisher in history in the form of Washington Post owner Kay Graham while Hanks assumes the role of her editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee. Both are respectable people who only desire to do what’s right. In Graham’s case, however, she has more to lose than anyone else on her team. While all of them face the threat of jail time, Graham has inherited the Post from her late husband and intends to pass it down to her children. She finds herself in the situation of potentially having to choose between truth and family, as Nixon threatens to destroy the paper should the truth be published. In addition, her decision to publish or to not publish directly affects the well-being of everyone in her employ. It is not a decision that she can – or should – take lightly.
This particular element of the film adds a human quality that would otherwise be entirely lacking. Nearly everyone else in the movie is completely focused on the task at hand with no pause for the personal consequences they may be facing. In fact, the first hour of the film feels somewhat clinical and mechanical. Streep and her character add a layer of depth and a palpable warmth to the otherwise cold, businesslike proceedings playing out around her, providing the audience with a much-needed and -appreciated emotional anchor. The implications of the Post’s discovery are massive, as is the potential fallout. People other than the president will be affected by the ultimate outcome and Spielberg understands that his film must acknowledge that fact. He wisely trusts Streep with that responsibility and she delivers. I think I can now forgive her for Florence Foster Jenkins.
Hanks’s Ben Bradlee is a little more gruff than audiences are used to seeing from a Hanks character, but he fits the role perfectly. Bradlee is the driving force behind the progression of events in the film. Without Bradlee pushing others, nothing happens. Hanks projects strength and determination – as any editor-in-chief should – anchored by an underlying and unwavering moral center. Bradlee not only cares about maintaining dignity and ethics, but also about the American people as well the reputation of the company and industry to which he has dedicated himself.
The film is undoubtedly reminiscent of 2015’s awards darling Spotlight, though perhaps while being even more timely than that picture was. With America’s current president regularly toeing the line with regards to the suppression of the first amendment – and even explicitly threatening to revoke said amendment – The Post is an important reminder that the freedom of the press is an important pillar of democracy and must be protected at all costs. Spielberg has not only delivered a prestige film, but also a public service announcement starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks.
On the other end of the spectrum, the film takes a little longer than I expected to gain narrative momentum. Once Bradlee gains access to the Pentagon Papers, things really pick up, though, and, to me, the film did not feel like it was anywhere near two hours long. And, objectively speaking, The Post isn’t quite as engaging or starkly entertaining as some of the other prestige films of the late-2017 season (though Hanks gets off a few well-delivered quotable lines). But it doesn’t really need to be. That’s not this film’s goal. The Post carves out its own unique identity among the rest of the field and stands tall as perhaps the most vitally important film of the year. It has become a cliché to declare that those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it. Yet, despite the frequency with which that particular phrase is uttered, society keeps making the same old mistakes. The Post is a plea from Steven Spielberg for us to come together and to do better. If we do nearly as well as he, Streep, and Hanks have done with this film, then we’ll be able to chalk it up as a lesson learned.
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