Steven Spielberg (“Bridge of Lies”) is the de facto storyteller for inspirational American tales, ranging from the life of Abraham Lincoln to the European invasion of World War II. “The Post,” his recent recount of the publishing of The Pentagon Papers, is no different. With a star-studded cast, larger-than-life characters and the typical Spielberg-esque flair, “The Post” recaptures the bravery necessary to confront a corrupt government and expose its shameful secrets.
Richard Nixon’s tenure as president is only increasingly relevant today as we trudge through the daily drudgery of a Donald Trump presidency loaded with bigotry, lies and distrust of the media. History repeats itself, and Spielberg’s efforts to retell past dilemmas to teach us about the present are not fruitless. Someone of such influence and talent — Spielberg, that is — is the perfect person to educate those born before the early ’70s about such paranoia and hatred toward a free press.
Beyond the movie’s timeliness, it boasts a thrilling yet slow-burning story that, despite a rather dull beginning, displays the virtues of doing what is right rather than what is easy. After The New York Times publishes an article exposing government cover-ups and lies regarding the Vietnam War, The Washington Post rushes to match their competitor’s content. Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks, “Bridge of Spies”), editor-in-chief for The Post, fights to publish government documents revealing a reluctance to withdraw from Vietnam despite clear signs of imminent failure. Alongside Bradlee is the paper’s new publisher Kay Graham (Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins”) — the first woman to hold such a position — who refuses to appease her disobedient board filled with multiple men breathing down her neck.
Liz Hannah and Josh Singer’s (“Spotlight”) screenplay is the ideal match for Spielberg’s grand directorial style. It avoids complexity in favor of a more straightforward storytelling approach. The script’s good versus evil trope is different from the more typical “America is good” and others are “bad” approach some of the director’s other films follow. Here, the government is the antagonist, while the reporters are the protagonists. Regardless, “The Post” is as pro-American as a movie could possibly be, highlighting the fundamental role the press plays in preserving democracy.
“The Post” would not be as strong of a movie without standout performances from Streep and Sarah Paulson (“American Crime Story”), who, in limited screen time, takes over in some of the movie’s essential moments. Bob Odenkirk (“Better Call Saul”) comes alive as Ben Bagdikian, a reporter who played an integral role in receiving and publishing The Pentagon Papers. As a movie that heavily relies on the performances rather than large-scale CGI and special effects, all actors do their part in ensuring success. Even Hanks, who I don’t always find to be that talented, does his job with passion and ease. He portrays Bradlee as the cowboy of the beltway — the journalist with a growling voice eager to go against the establishment.
For a movie that everyone already knows the ending to, “The Post” manages to fully engulf us into the world of early ’70s journalism. Despite a somewhat unnecessary final moment, we feel comfort in knowing that corrupt administrations filled with secrets will finally be brought down. To me, that’s reassuring for our future.