Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep channel Ben Bradlee and Katharine Graham
BY PAUL HALL
News. It drives the country—hard-hitting reports, puff pieces, and even the newly-crafted “fake news.” It graces newspapers, magazines, television, radio and online media outlets. The press was put in place to serve the people. Do they always make everyone happy? No, but is their job to make us happy? In the new film The Post from director Steven Spielberg, we see how the Washington, D.C., newspaper fought to keep their freedoms alive and brought the Pentagon Papers to light.
Back in 1971, The Washington Post was thought of as a nice little paper, but surely not as mammoth as the “paper of record.” That title belonged to the fabled New York Times. But as The Post’s new publisher, Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep), works with her board to turn the paper into a publicly-traded company, she hopes her publication can become relevant in its own city.
Meanwhile, editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), a veteran of the industry, has a sense that something is up at The Times. One of The Times’s top reporters is a bit too quiet. But Bradlee has no idea what is coming down the pike—the documents we now call the Pentagon Papers.
Vietnam has always been a touchy subject. Even to this day, there are individuals with extremely uncompromising and steadfast views on the war. So, in the film, when The New York Times gets a tip on the documents that hold proof of a government cover-up about Vietnam, they go to work.
When their shocking piece is published, the U.S. Supreme Court gets involved and The Times is gagged. Will The Post step into the void left by The Times? And will they even get their hands on the documents necessary to fire up the press? Leaders like Graham and Bradlee will need to take enormous risks and stand on principles if they are going to maintain the valuable freedoms afforded them. But will they?
Spielberg spins a tense and momentum-filled film that builds to a thought-provoking conclusion. This story has been talked about before, but not from the viewpoint of the people who ran The Post. And I found my eyes glued to the screen.
This film, founded in yesteryear, could be ripped from the headlines today. The resolution, regardless of the winners or losers, needed to be just and right to set a precedent for the future.
In true Spielberg fashion, he enlists two of the best actors in Hollywood to lead the story. The incomparable Streep believably shows the weight of the entire industry that was planted on Graham’s shoulders. Streep’s Graham exhibits struggle and strength as the chaotic events unfold around her. And that’s without even seeming to realize the challenge of representing her entire gender as the first woman publisher of a major American newspaper.
Though we see the dismissiveness from other characters, Streep’s Graham is focused on what’s right for the people, and she hits a home run. Alongside Streep, Hanks delivers a hard-charging Bradlee who seems not to have a care in the world other than putting the truth in print. But Hanks is also able to show us there may be more to Bradlee with a simple look, a smile or a seemingly throwaway line.
Together with an amazingly accomplished supporting cast—including my favorite, Bob Odenkirk as Ben Bagdikian—our leads provide a stunning tale of intrigue and drive to be enjoyed for years to come. Stop the presses! The Post takes us on a truly memorable journey into the past. And it is in that journey that we get a framework for our future.
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