Review: The Post
In order to throughly examine this work and provide fair criticism, this article contains spoilers.
You have been warned.
In our current climate of false missile alerts and with the constant barrage of depressing news feeds, feel good films (specifically those centered on journalists exposing government lies) are especially necessary. While The Post doesn’t exceed the successes of journalistic movies that have come before it, All The President’s Men, Zodiac, Spotlight, it still serves as a rallying point not only for good journalism in times of governmental overreach but also for women in the workplace.
Katharine Graham, portrayed by Meryl Streep, has inherited ownership of The Washington Post from her late husband who committed suicide, despite her friends and colleagues referring to it as an “accident.” She has a working relationship with Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) who cares more about the duties of the press to inform the public about government hush-ups than the paper’s bottom line. And therein lies the central conflict of The Post, as Katharine has taken the company public, while retaining her majority control, and must decide whether or not to publish pieces on The Pentagon Papers. The New York Times, their friendly, and more prestigious, rival, has already been blocked from publishing stories due to a government injunction, and investors could pull out, plunging the Post into bankruptcy.
Katharine is a quiet figure among the loud voices of men constantly surrounding and drowning her out at corporate tables. She takes her time over the course of the film to find her voice, with the camera circling her as she spins around within her own head on what to speak, often failing to even summon any words forth. Instead she must rely on previously written notes, whether by her own hand or her daughters. Despite the paper’s financial woes Katharine and her family enjoy a high class life within a large mansion that frequently hosts dinner and retirement parties for other rich folk, both within and without the government. She finally does assert her authority over those who would seek to take advantage, but it comes late and after I already had lost interest due to her fraternization with the opulent.
Ben, meanwhile, is always working and never sleeping, as he quickly enters and exits his house chasing leads and making himself present for any important conversations. He sends an intern on a bus ride to New York City to spy on the Times, and hosts several of his best staff members in his living room as they sort through the innumerable and disorganized Pentagon Papers for the most important facts. His charisma is as engaging as ever, whether helping his daughter extract cash from his employees by selling lemonade or when defending his position among the various talking heads who want to block his story from publication. Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) doesn’t get enough time on-screen, imitating his engaging persona from Breaking Bad, as if Saul Goodman had gone to journalism school.
The most important aspect of The Post is its arrival at a time where journalism is frequently under fire from the highest office of the land, not unlike Nixon’s attempts to quash any criticism. Audio from Nixon’s phone conversations are used, and the similarities to our current president are eerie. Spielberg’s cinematic flair shows itself with certain one-shots, from our introduction to Tom Hanks to the fluidity of the newsroom. When Katharine confronts McNamara about his time overseeing the war in Vietnam the angles shift and his raised voice threatens to transform the film into horror, a potential that is sadly feared by many women when alone with a man.
Not only must Katharine find a voice for herself, but she inadvertently ends up as the voice for other women who desire, and deserve, better respect and better positions within the workplace. Frequently we are shown the divide between men and women, whether it be the women excusing themselves from the dinner table when politics are brought up, or the literal doors closed to the women outside Wall Street and the Supreme Court Building. Katharine never directly addresses this issue, but the point is not at all subtle. Near the end, she exits the Supreme Court hearing content to avoid the flashes of cameras and roar of questions to instead walk among the various women gathered outside, shut out from the men’s world of power. Spielberg ends the film, however, with a wink towards Watergate, as if he is setting up his own cinematic universe already fulfilled by All The President’s Men.