Anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock over the last year is well aware that journalism has been under fire in this country. As a fan of journalism movies, I was extremely excited for Steven Spielberg’s new movie, The Post. Set in 1971 it tells the true story of the leaked documents detailing the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war and what the government knew and didn’t know as well as what they failed to tell the American people. The New York Times ran a story featuring based on information they received from the whistleblower. The struggling Washington Post then obtained all 4000 pages of the report and was stuck in a moral and legal dilemma as whether or not to release the information to the country. Feeling bound by their journalistic obligations they soon decided that releasing the documents was more important than the legal ramifications that could come their way.
The film has a true all-star cast led by Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep with great supporting roles at every turn. Tom Hanks plays the famous editor Ben Bradlee Sr. who was also played wonderfully by Jason Robards in the 1976 masterpiece, All The Presidents Men. Meryl Streep plays Fay Graham the owner of the paper who’s family has owned the paper for decades. Doing her best to keep the paper afloat all while trying to keep its integrity and relevance. She is on the verge of taking the paper public on the stock exchange when the documents find their way into the hands of the newsroom. After combing the damning documents the quick decision must be made ultimately by Graham as for whether or not to publish. she is conflicted because of not only the legal backlash but how it could ultimately be the end of the paper if mishandled in any way.
Spielberg has done a fine job capturing the quick pace that journalists work at as well as the enormous pressure they can be under in a time factor as well as morally. He shows the tension so well that we as the viewers can feel it at every level. As good as Hanks and Streep are, and they are great, the film is really carried by its supporting cast. The pace of the film is so quick it will be a movie that needs multiple viewings to absorb all the information that is given in rapid-fire succession.
Two years ago I reviewed the Oscar-winning film Spotlight (review can be found here) and I mentioned how the death of great journalism is slowly happening in this digital age. Once again a film shows the power of true journalism and how it can’t go away or be taken away no matter how ugly what is reported is. It is the last line of defense to hold ANYONE in power accountable, not just in government but in any daily situation. The Post talks about how newspapers fledgling and that is so much truer today, yet even in times like those, great things happened and they still can.
Spielberg pulls no punches and shows the truth behind everything that went into informing the public about the disaster that was Vietnam. As bad as everyone knew the war was for so many years, they had no idea how deeply and just how bad it really was. These papers tarnished legacies such as Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy just 11 years after his assassination. Richard Nixon undoubtedly took the brunt of the heat at the time leading him to wage war on the Washington Post (sound familiar?). The paper survived and ultimately took the president down a couple years later with the Watergate scandal.
There is no question that Spielberg had the current times on his mind while making the movie but he did not let that change the way the story was told. He didn’t have to change things to make a point about today. The story itself is the message of journalism and the power it has. There is a saying that the pen is mightier than the sword and when you realize that right to a free press was an amendment to the constitution before the right to bear arms, it shows that the founding fathers knew this well over 200 years ago. The Post will leave in awe as well as having you thinking deeply about today’s political climate. It will rank with great films such as Spotlight and All The Presidents Men and is one many people need to see.