I live in the heart of Nixon country—Yorba Linda. President Nixon was born here, he’s buried here, and his library is here. While the city loves to tout his accomplishments, to their credit, they acknowledge his infamous shortcomings. Steven Spielberg’s The Post dives head first into Nixon’s war with the press, while winking a few times at current events.
The Pentagon Papers and the Viet Nam war serve as the backdrop of The Post. But the real story is about Katherine (Kay) Graham (Meryl Streep), the owner of the Washington Post. After her husband’s suicide, Kay was reluctantly thrust into the world of news publishing ruled solely by men. Maintaining her family’s business and legacy was her burden to carry in accepting her new role.
“…the reluctant heroine caught between the financial survival of the family business and… its mission to aggressively pursue the truth.”
In 1966, the New York Times obtained and began releasing excerpts of a classified report about the Viet Nam war, known as the Pentagon Papers. The report was commissioned by then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood), who wanted a comprehensive understanding of the United States involvement in Viet Nam. The papers show that the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administration had been lying to the public about the progress the war and its sinister reason for not pulling out of Viet Nam.
In an attack on the first amendment, the Department of Justice sued the New York Times and handed them an injunction preventing them from further publishing the Pentagon Papers. Capitalizing on the Times’ misfortune, the Post’s executive director Ben Bradlee manages to get a hold of the papers and at the risk of federal contempt of court charges he publishes the papers.
This all brings us back to Kay Graham and this moment in time for the Washington Post. Kay was the only woman owner of a major newspaper. In need of an infusion of cash, she orchestrated the Post’s public offering. As a socialite, she had and maintained close relationships with many political figures, including Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.
For screenwriter Liz Hannah, The Post is an homage to Katherine Graham. Streep portrays Graham as the reluctant heroine caught between the financial survival of the family business and protecting its mission to aggressively pursue the truth. As the owner, she is the one to make the final decision for The Post to defy the courts and stands behind the first amendment.
“Only a master director like Spielberg can create tension from sequences featuring paper pushing and people thinking…”
Tom Hanks is fantastic as Graham’s bulldog, Ben Bradlee, at the Post representing the side of the press. And countered perfectly by Bradley Whitford as Washington Post board member Arthur Parsons fighting for the financial interests of the paper. Intentional or not, Kay wisely sought a vigorous debate from her circle of advisors before making and ultimately owning her final decision.
One of my favorite performances also comes from Bob Odenkirk as senior journalist Ben Bagdikian. Comedians are my favorite dramatic actors. It is Odenkirk, who provides the only real action in the film, following the clues that lead him to the source of the leaked papers.
Let’s face it—only Steven Spielberg could have made this film. The outcome of every event is predictable; true stories have a way of ruining surprises. Only a master director, like Spielberg, can create tension from sequences featuring paper pushing and people thinking. There is an entire sequence involving the passing of a folder from one person to another. So exciting.
The Post is an important film spotlighting the necessity of a free press to keep our government in check, but more importantly, spotlights a person…a woman willing to risk everything for the greater good of the nation.
The Post (2017) Directed by Steven Spielberg. Written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer. Starring Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Bruce Greenwood, Bradley Whitford, and Bob Odenkirk.
4 out of 5 stars