“The Post” Movie Review


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     Prior to seeing Steven Spielberg’s new film “The Post”, you’re likely to hear a lot of people referring to the storyline as having been “ripped from today’s headlines”, a reference to the ongoing battle between Trump’s White House and the media over accusations of “fake news” and false reporting.  Interestingly enough, the landmark Supreme Court decision at the center of the film’s plot, which allowed The Washington Post, as well as the rest of the news media, to publish top secret government documents that divulged the truth about the Vietnam War in 1971, seems to have given the media enormous and unchallengeable power to spin information how they see fit, regardless of whether it represents the truth or not.

     Look at this way.  Newspapers and television networks are businesses.  And the difference between being profitable or an editor ultimately losing his/her job is delivering a story people want to read and follow over a long period of time, or at least until the next big blood laden scandal comes along.  Considering the power of influence the media can wield at any given time, my question is who is overseeing them?  The President, of whom they mercilessly condemn each day, is a mere one third of our government’s power structure, whereas the media operates without any sort of fact checking watchdog.  If it’s the difference between remaining a viable business, or the flip side of going out of business, which story do you think any given media outlet will choose to report?  “If it bleeds, it leads” they say, which makes you wonder why the inclusion of more positive human stories are not demanded by the very same public the news media claims they are standing up for.

     As you would expect, Spielberg’s film is meticulously crafted and expertly acted by what is one of the best ensembles of the year.  First time screenwriter Liz Hannah and Academy Award winning screenwriter Josh Singer (“Spotlight”) provide the dramatized story of Washington Post publisher Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) and editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) whose newspaper finds themselves in the crosshairs of the Nixon Administration after coming into possession of a classified study, known as the Pentagon Papers, on the Vietnam War that implicates four Presidents as having lied to the American people about our country’s involvement early on.  As a period piece, the film plays a lot like the 1976 Watergate opus “All the President’s Men”, accurately depicting the newsroom setting and the way in which reporters gained information from sources and turned it into news worthy columns in the country’s most reputable newspapers.

     As Graham, Streep is fabulous as always, proving again why she is the finest actress of our generation.  Hanks, as Bradlee, is solid if unspectacular, consistently overshadowed by the powerful presence of Streep whose role allows her to have the best and most impactful scenes, some of which had the audience I saw the film with clapping and cheering. The work turned in by Bob Odenkirk as the reporter whose source is in possession of the Pentagon Papers lends a strong supporting authenticity to the proceedings, allowing viewers to see the relationships a reporter cultivates in order to get the biggest stories.  There are also notable supporting performances from Sarah Paulson, Tracy Letts, Bruce Greenwood, Jesse Plemons, Carrie Coon, and Matthew Ryhs that round out an impressive cast who help flesh out the room in scenes mainly dominated by Streep and Hanks.

     An impeccable production design by frequent Spielberg collaborator Rick Carter provides a detailed look at the 1970s newspaper printing process, which was an arduous daily task requiring molds of each and every word placed together and organized into the desired layout of each page.  For those who are younger and accustomed to the perks of today’s technology, they may be surprised to see how the printed newspapers they might remember their mom or dad reading early in their lives were created each day and distributed throughout each city.  Spielberg guides all of this in his typically flawless manner, bringing to the screen another historical and lifelike depiction of important events in our history.

     The power of the news media is as significant an issue in our society today as anything else we consider to be critical or important to the way we live.  People tend to get their information via carefully constructed sound bites designed to peak the interest of the mainstream and take what is said or printed as fact without investigating the issue themselves.  Given this problem, the new media has the unspeakable power to shape how the majority of our population thinks.  The media controls what we fear and often determines how we should react to that fear.  All in the name of their own profitability.  Am I the only one who sees something wrong with that?

     There is no doubt Kay Graham and her paper’s 1971 fight to print the Pentagon Papers is a watershed moment in our nation’s history and a true test of the power of the First Amendment, but how are we currently ensuring that power is not being abused? For all the finger pointing in various directions, we rarely see them in the direction of the news media who chooses what they report each day with the all mighty dollar at the forefront of their priority list.  Are we to believe all they are after is the truth?  In the society we live in today, that’s just not possible.  GRADE: B+