The Post is one of those films that’s about something that’s not just important, but Important. You can tell, in part, because of the sheer magnitude of the talent involved in making the film. Of course, there’s the fact that Steven Spielberg felt so compelled to make it, he managed to crank it out within a year of announcing its production. There’s the fact that Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks signed up to play the leads. There’s also the incredibly deep bench of actors the film has managed to pull in for the supporting roles, actors so talented that they manage to convey who their characters are with a minimum number of scenes. What makes The Post good, though, is how all of the high-profile elements involved here create a story that may not be revolutionary, but is still incredibly vital in today’s political environment.
In 1971, military analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) manages to obtain copies of the Pentagon Papers, a lengthy study that examined how the American government lied to the American people over the course of multiple presidencies in order to continue the Vietnam War, and sends portions of it to different press outlets, including the Washington Post. The Post happens to be in a tenuous situation at the time. Editor in Chief Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) is constantly frustrated by the the constraints placed on him by owner Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), who in turn is facing tough choices following the decision to publicly offer shares of the company. When the rival New York Times is prevented from publishing the Pentagon Papers by the Nixon administration, the Post is faced with the decision of publishing a shocking story that brings with it the full fury of the government.
At a time where confidence in the press is at a notable low, with the President making “fake news” into a mantra, a film like The Post is unquestionably inspiring. The Post highlights the sheer amount of work that goes into investigating a story, even if it leaves out the more time-consuming elements of journalism that can result in dead ends in its push to dramatically tell this particular story. It also shows how committed journalists will pursue the truth of their story over any supposed agenda some claim may be present.
If that weren’t enough, the film also manages to underline the specific pressures that Graham faced in this situation. The film brings up the fact that Graham became publisher of the Post following the death of her husband, who was appointed to the position by her father. The Post was a family company, but her time at the helm came after a man who married into the family held the position first. In her interactions with her board, with Washington figures, and even with Bradlee at times, Graham has to try to find a way to voice her opinions after a lifetime of being dismissed because of her gender. The film also provides Streep with her best role in years. Sure, she’s been able to act more in other films, but Spielberg and Streep together work to keep Streep more restrained than she’s been as of late.
With the amount of talent involved here, it’s hard to fault the film for any faults it may have. It’s an incredibly earnest film, and it does remove some of the potential suspense from the story. It’s also a film that has a clear agenda in mind, and it’s hard to imagine that it finds a receptive audience with those sympathetic to the current holders of political power. For the particular messaging Spielberg wants to display here, though, it’s clear that he’s succeeded.