What I love about THE POST is how relevant and daring it is. With the current political climate, a historic drama of newspapers against the U.S. government seems downright prescient. The obvious choice in story should be the retelling of the Watergate scandal that brought down the Nixon presidency. But THE POST dodges that age-old story for something much less familiar – the decision by The Washington Post to publish news articles based on leaked, classified documents known informally as the Pentagon Papers. Not only does give audiences a glimpse into a historic battle where the freedom of the press was at stake, but it also allows for a secondary focus detailing just how The Washington Post became a national newspaper commentary. The film also casts a bright light on journalistic integrity, allowing room for the audience to interpret the events of the film with the Trump administration in mind.
THE POST tells the story of the Pentagon Papers events through the eyes of Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), the first U.S. female newspaper editor. In the film, Graham is struggling to find her place and voice in an industry dominated by men – even as her newspaper struggles to stay financially viable. When The Washington Post receives a copy of the Pentagon Papers, a classified document that shows a cover-up regarding the Vietnam War that has lasted the tenure of four presidents, Graham comes into conflict with Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), the bullheaded editor of the newspaper. Bradlee’s journalist instincts tells him that the news found in the Pentagon Papers must be published, whereas Graham is concerned that publishing the news could lead to an uncertain future if the U.S. government sues them.
It should come as no surprise that Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks elevate THE POST to the highest level. Streep is at her very best as Kay Graham. The indecisiveness and worry in her character are palpable, present not just in her delivery but in her eyes and mannerisms. She is both soft-spoken and incredibly smart, and she goes through an evolution throughout the film that is astounding. The film’s undertones of female empowerment feel especially relevant in the current political climate.
Likewise, Tom Hanks is brilliant as the gruff, bullheaded Ben Bradlee. His journalistic integrity is the core of his character, and Hanks portrays him as a world-weary man always ready for the next ideological battle. At a time when The Washington Post was struggling to stay solvent, Bradlee is only focused on one thing – telling the news. For him, that means a constant clash with the publisher. Whereas Bradlee is concerned with the news, Graham is concerned with whether or not the news could upset investors. With the Pentagon Papers, and the looming threat of a lawsuit from the U.S. government, the ultimate struggle in THE POST is cerebral. It’s a battle of ideology, made all the more compelling due to the current political climate we live in today.
The film flows along at a great pace, buoyed by a soaring score from John Williams. It’s got a wonderful cast of secondary characters (including Bob Odenkirk, Jesse Plemmons, David Cross, and Michael Stuhlbarg) that all give great, nuanced performances. The film isn’t just a history lesson, but an uplifting reminder of the importance of a free press. To really showcase how important the events of the film are, THE POST regularly utilizes audio from the infamous Nixon White House tapes. The damning audio is used to show how much disdain the Nixon administration had for the First Amendment – and it speaks directly to today’s audience and the equal vehemence that the Trump administration has for the news media.
THE POST is incredible and, quite frankly, required viewing for the times we live in. It is one of the most inspiring films I’ve seen in recent memory. It’s deeply patriotic, instilling not just a pride in the foundations of our country but also a pride in the free press that remains devoted to providing truth to the governed.