In the early 1970s, the New York Times gets hold of certain papers which prove that several US presidents lied about the level of American involvement in the Vietnam War, greatly misleading the public about how well (or badly, to be more accurate) the war is going. The story is printed, much to the annoyance of the paper’s rival The Washington Post, but Nixon’s involvement and a court ruling results in the Times being forbidden to publish further stories about the highly controversial issue, which leads to the Post hunting down the papers and possibly running the story themselves. But the untested owner of the paper Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) is uncertain of whether to publish or not, since it would implicate a close friend of hers and would also result in the Post being taken to the Supreme Court, clashing with the paper’s editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), who is determined to publish the story and to reveal the important truth to the public, regardless of the consequences.
With a film like this, one that explores hard hitting historical subject matter, there’s the possibility of telling the story in too formal a manner, where the investigation and the gradual revelation of the facts is drawn out in a protracted, super serious manner, perhaps leaving the less patient audience member constantly checking their watch. But thankfully, The Post manages to maintain a very breezy pace and the subject matter never really feels too heavy or dry; watching the central team come into possession of the earth-shattering documents and then piece together their newspaper story, always with the question of whether they’re eventually going to publish or not, is perfectly riveting and thanks to the incredibly timely nature of the well-written story, as well as the constant narrative curveballs and good all-round performances, it’s easy to get fully immersed in the central investigation as we constantly will them to uncover the truth.
But on that note, specific parts are slightly alienating – here, I’m mainly referring to the first meeting of Graham and Bradlee where they talk newspaper business and a later scene with Graham engaging in some serious, jargon-filled business talk with one of her board members. These particular scenes are too “technical” and dry, not really making sense to those who aren’t in the know, and should have been cut because they lead to the first half of the film being quite slow, serious and a bit confusing to certain audience members (i.e. me)
But this is really the only major negative point to speak of because the rest of the film is very accomplished, informative and often quite compelling. The Post was indeed made to reflect the current relations between the presidency and the media but it’s never preachy and isn’t too in-your-face with its comparisons to modern times; it’s an important story that gets you thinking about all the secrets that the higher powers could be hiding, of the lengths that politicians will go to to stop certain stories from being told, and watching as the press prepares to face the serious consequences of revealing the truth, for the benefit of the general public, is inspirational and a true, worthy tale of bravery.
It goes without saying that Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks are both excellent; even though they’re essentially playing themselves, not stepping too far out of their comfort zones, they both deliver powerful performances that give the film a solid bedrock and they work very well together, their characters sometimes appearing at loggerheads with each other, on opposite ends of the “to publish or not to publish” argument, but also showing a mutual respect and friendship. These inherently bankable stars admirably propel the film forward – well, with five Oscars between them, you’d expect no less! The Post also makes use of an impressive ensemble cast to back them up and the acting of Bob Odenkirk, Sarah Paulson, Bruce Greenwood and geez-he’s-in-EVERYTHING-nowadays Jesse Plemons compliments the film very nicely.
As alluded to before, the direction from the mighty Steven Spielberg is as strong as you would expect because he keeps a very good momentum going (which is especially admirable in a considerably “talky” film like this) and uses a wide variety of camera techniques to keep interest at maximum. The opening battle scenes set in Vietnam are also perfectly exciting (war/battle scenes were noticably missing from Darkest Hour, just thought I’d mention) and the legendary John Williams provides an excellent musical accompaniment to the film, channelling a great deal of Catch Me if you Can.
Well, that’s it for my rambling review. Do I hit “publish” or will Nixon come after me if I do?