In these times of instant media and news that comes and goes faster than it ever could have been printed, it’s easy to forget the role the newspapers played and, in some cases, still do.
The Post is director Steven Spielberg (The BFG, Bridge Of Spies) and writers Liz Hannah (Guidance (TV), Skin (Short)) and Josh Singer’s (The West Wing (TV), The Fifth Estate) take on the publishing of papers concerning the futility of the Vietnam war.
Kay Graham, Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady, The Devil Wears Prada), is the first female newspaper publisher and in charge of The Washington Post and when her editor Ben Bradlee, Tom Hanks (Sully, Bridge Of Spies), gets hold of some strictly confidential papers, she has a big decision to make.
The New York Times had already run a number of stories from the papers, leaked by Daniel Ellsberg, Matthew Rhys (The Americans (TV), Burnt), before being barred from printing more by the Nixon administration.
Bradlee is convinced that The Post needs the papers in order to compete and step up to the big leagues and so, when they get hold of them via Bob Odenkirk’s (Better Call Saul (TV), Nebraska) contact, leading them direct to Ellsberg himself, he wants to rush in and print.
Up steps all manner of board members and advisors to Graham, including the lawyers, led by Jesse Plemons (Black Mass, Bridge Of Spies), to explain to Graham, and Bradlee, why it’s a bad idea, especially given The New York Times have already been summoned to the supreme court and threats of contempt of court and prison floating around.
Ultimately, the decision falls to Graham and she must decide between pushing ahead and fighting for the freedom of the press, or falling in line and appeasing the board and the shareholders of a recent float on the US stock exchange.
The Post was never going to be an easy sell outside of the US, given the subject matter. Also, we’re used to leaks from places such as government more than I think we’ve ever been before, although it’s interesting to see the attempts to stop them haven’t changed.
With Singer’s involvement you can see the links between The Post and The West Wing clearly. Long scenes of dialogue between multiple characters, sometimes with them talking over each other too. Ultimately, The Post is about some people in charge of a newspaper, deciding whether to publish words from more paper.
I don’t envy Spielberg’s task in making this something watchable, but he does a great job. He manages to convey a sense of tension and employs some neat quick-cuts, particularly during the scenes where multiple people are all on the same phone conversation, to bring about a sense of urgency to proceedings.
The script does have some light touches of humour throughout but it’s largely a staid affair. Both Streep and Hanks are, as you’d expect, stellar in their performances, even if Streep does look like Thatcher again from The Iron Lady.
It was Odenkirk who impressed me the most though, more than holding his own against these two giants of the big screen. He brings a sense of urgency and action to proceedings when large parts are people stood around, hands on hips, discussing things. Odenkirk gets out and gets on.
For such a sedate story, Spielberg does very well to bring some drama to the proceedings, it may not have you on the edge of your seat, but you’ll be close. But it is the performances, of everyone involved, that really give you all the reason you need to watch The Post.