Politically topical and compellingly relevant, The Post is Steven Spielberg’s love letter to democracy. In a time when the media is under increasing amounts of scrutiny, The Post emphasises the importance of the free press. The powerhouse film also illustrates the power struggle between the government and the press in a functional democracy, and showcases the idealism necessary to be a successful, but more importantly, an honourable journalist.
After an enthralling opening scene, The Post is a slooooow burn. There are no edge-of-your-seat moments; there really doesn’t need to be. The Post is captivating. It draws the audience’s interest by taking the first thirty minutes to set itself up. The film revolves around the 1971 leak of the Pentagon Papers, the classified documents regarding undisclosed information about US involvement in the Vietnam War. However, this movie is not actually about this, choosing instead to focus on the Washington Post’s decision to publish these documents. This decision, as one can imagine, was not simple to make, and calls into question journalistic courage, morality and integrity. All of this, of course, is underscored by the typical dramatic score by John Williams, who makes this slow-moving film about a real political scandal sound like the next iteration of Indiana Jones.
Whilst playing a fun game of “What have I seen that actor in before?” viewers of the film are treated to lukewarm performances from Tom Hanks and Meryl (who doesn’t even need a last name mention). Saying that, it is difficult to imagine this movie being effective with other actors in these roles. Meryl plays Katharine Graham, the CEO of the Washington Post, and the token woman of the story. Her struggles as a woman in journalism in the early 1970’s are lightly touched on, but are never really fleshed out. The Katharine Graham of the film managed to avoid making any ground-breaking suggestions about women in journalism, but still met the Academy’s low threshold to nominate Meryl for an Oscar.
Tom Hanks, who previously worked with Spielberg on Bridge of Spies, is greatly utilised by his director. In the role of Post editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee, Hanks is in his element. His charisma carries the role, as the character has no endearing traits to speak of or show-stopping scenes worth mentioning, really.
The real star of this movie is Bob Odenkirk (Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul). Odenkirk is electric. He plays Ben Bagdikian, the assistant editor of the Washington Post, who is essentially responsible for bringing the damning documents to the paper who published them despite the White House’s restraining order against the sensitive leak. His anxious energy and moral battle are palpable in the cinema, and his performance is what really carries the film.
All in all, The Post is not the most fast-paced film, nor is it the award-bait that Spielberg’s most recent releases have tried to be. It purports to showcase the drama of the power play between the state and the free press, and does exactly this. No more, no less. And it’s a pleasure to watch, if you can sit through the slow first act.