Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks lead this timely newsroom procedural about the release of the Pentagon Papers
Steven Spielberg shines a spotlight on the media machine in The Post, a sumptuously stylised 70s docudrama about journalism's uncomfortable relationship to power. Starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks as Katharine Graham and Ben Bradlee (the publisher and executive editor of The Washington Post respectively), this timely newsroom procedural has the current political climate firmly in its crosshairs.
The film opens in the jungles of Vietnam, before shifting to the in-house battles at The Washington Post, where the board are concerned about Graham; despite being the first female publisher of a major American newspaper, she still finds herself having to pander to the patriarchy. Meanwhile Bradlee, a man "sick of reading the news rather than reporting it," is encouraged by her idealistic belief that “quality drives profitability,” especially when he catches wind that The New York Times are about to release the Pentagon Papers – 7000 pages of analyses exposing a massive cover-up of government secrets surrounding the United States involvement in Vietnam.
From here a superbly controlled and detailed account of The Washington Post’s role in the leak unfurls, with Spielberg commendably eschewing sensationalism to focus on the nuts and bolts of the process. Highlighting the role of each individual character, this workmanlike approach creates a level of detachment from its subject that works both for and against the film. On the one hand, observing these reporters and editors put their noses to the grindstone underlines the nobility of the work being undertaken while also allowing the audience time to draw parallels with current events. However, this dutiful approach also strips the film of any urgency and the larger political contours of the scandal.
Despite its dogged methodology, once the ink has dried the message is clear for all to see, with The Post a rousing call for the type of journalism that serves the governed, not the governors. [Patrick Gamble]