Oscar winners Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks unite onscreen for the first time as Kay Graham and Ben Bradlee, The Washington Post’s publisher and editor who defied the Nixon Administration by releasing the infamous Pentagon Papers, in “The Post,” a nerve-racking political thriller and first-rate journalism drama costarring Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bruce Greenwood, Jesse Plemons and many others.
Directed with vigor and veteran precision by the ever-prolific Steven Spielberg, this incredible true tale is a hard-hitting, crowd-pleasing political thriller that fires on all cylinders, from the top-notch filmmaking and superb writing to the winning performances that tie it all together. Taking a well-known historical scandal and recreating it with striking immediacy, “The Post” not only delivers a credibly thrilling, race-against-time account of journalism at its finest but also draws powerful parallels to the current political climate and our continuing need to protect the freedom of the press. Featuring a remarkable script by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer that covers the scandal’s scope with commendable clarity, superlative editing by Michael Kahn and Sarah Broshar that sustains the storyline’s suffocating suspense, and ace camerawork by Janusz Kaminski, “The Post” is a standout awards contender that marks Spielberg’s best work in years.
“The Post” begins in 1966 with Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), a military analyst for the RAND Corporation, growing disillusioned by the Johnson Administration’s misrepresentation of the Vietnam War. Specifically, the government is perpetuating the falsehood that the war is winnable, when all evidence points to the contrary. Ellsberg knows this because he worked on the study, titled “History of U.S. Decision-making in Vietnam, 1945-66,” that confirmed the unwinnable outcome. Horrified that the government would rather allow American soldiers to die in a losing battle than admit defeat, Ellsberg decides to leak the massive confidential study, later known as The Pentagon Papers, to New York Times reporter Neil Sheehan (Justin Swain).
Shifting to 1971, when Sheehan’s exposé finally breaks, it’s a bombshell, sparking Vietnam protests, fury from the Nixon administration, and no shortage of envy from competing publications, perhaps none more so than The Washington Post’s esteemed editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks). Knowing Sheehan’s story is just the tip of the iceberg, Bradlee calls upon his staff to seek out the leak’s source, hoping to obtain the documents so that the next scoop will be theirs.
Meanwhile, to keep the company afloat, The Post publisher Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) is in the process of selling off millions of shares of stock, which, barring some catastrophic event, is all but a done deal. But when Bradlee and his staff obtain the documents along with enough damning information to publish an even more explosive report than Sheehan’s, Graham is faced with a momentous decision that could not only jeopardize the future of the paper, but her freedom as well.
Liz Hannah and Josh Singer’s constantly captivating, fact-based script is notable for many reasons, but chief among them is its ability to bring edge-of-your-seat thrills to a story that, at its core, is about journalism and the relationship between a publisher and her editor. A celebration of democracy and the well-meaning principles upon which our country was founded, the film’s subject matter inspires a liveliness and clearness of intent from director Steven Spielberg that permeates the proceedings and aptly captures the story’s suspense and historical significance without losing sight of the personal drama that makes it hit home.
Taking a cue in both mood and visual style from the paranoid political thrillers of the 70s like “All The President’s Men” and “Three Days of the Condor,” then infusing it with his populist brand of cinema, Spielberg delivers a piece of mainstream entertainment with “The Post,” that’s as exhilarating as it is enlightening.
Grounding this spellbinding account of government corruption and journalistic integrity are two of our most celebrated actors, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, and their first onscreen collaboration does not disappoint. Although both shine in their similarly juicy roles, and their scenes together simply sparkle, Streep’s performance is the more multidimensional, at least partially on account of the complex character she’s tasked with portraying. Being an heir to a publishing throne, the first female in her profession and struggling to keep her company afloat while facing moral dilemmas that put her company, her freedom and her longstanding friendship with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in peril, Kay Graham provides the basis for a fascinating character, and you better believe that Streep rises to the occasion. As no-nonsense editor Ben Bradlee, Tom Hanks expertly evokes the notable newspaperman’s strong personality, steeliness and sharp wit. Hanks is also largely the one called on to channel the historical importance of the proceedings, and he makes sure audiences feel the weight of the moment at nearly every opportunity.
The substantial supporting cast also helps considerably in steering this Speilberg vehicle to success, most notably Bob Odenkirk as the managing editor (Bob Odenkirk) who tracked down Ellsberg, Jesse Plemons as The Washington Post’s anxious attorney, and Tracy Letts as The Post’s loyal chairman Fritz Beebe.
“The Post” is an uncannily timely political thriller that honors integrity and condemns dishonesty.
Running Time: 115 minutes
Rated PG-13 for language and brief war violence
By Lucas Mirabella