Every day in every way, Spielberg gets better and better and better. His new film, The Post is a tense drama which spotlights The Washington Post’s rivalry with The New York Times and focuses on the publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. It ends with the infamous Watergate burglary that would lead to the ouster of President Nixon.
Meryl Streep shines as the owner and publisher of The Post, Katharine Graham, who takes a keen interest in the paper she inherited from her father after her husband committed suicide. Tom Hanks is Executive Editor Ben Bradlee who holds his ground when Mrs Graham tries to intervene in the nitty gritty of coverage.
We remember when, as interns at The Times of India, we were taken through the production process: Letterpress which involved the composition of letters from melted lead, black ink and rolls of paper. And oh! how we loved the smell of the freshly printed newspaper.
Co-scripted by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, the film recounts how the titular paper benefited from an injunction against the NYT and WP’s National Editor Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) acquired the voluminous study of American policy in Vietnam from Defense Department analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) who was later sentenced for espionage but freed.
Graham, Bradlee and company are also threatened with imprisonment by the Nixon administration but stand up with steely resolve. The film is expertly edited and Spielberg employs a consistently serious tone which is enlivened by the sight of Bradlee perpetually interrupting Graham’s garden parties where the guests include CBS’ Walter Cronkite and the humourist Art Buchwald (David Costabile) who inspired Busybee who inspired Marcellus Baptista at the Afternoon Despatch and Courier.
There’s loads of name-dropping (Bradlee recalls meals with slain Prez JFK) and former defense secretary Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) is a friend of Mrs Graham, a connection she refuses to exploit since he was the one who had commissioned the Pentagon Papers.
But the heart of the film is concerned with quest for truth and freedom. The classified papers contended that young Americans were sent off to fight the war in Vietnam despite all the Presidents knowing the prospects of winning, were dim. (However, certain authors dispute this version)
In the end, Kathryn Graham decides the paper, despite its precarious financial position, must publish, and not let government get away with suppressing the freedom of the press. Where the film and anti-War peaceniks falter is in acknowledging that America’s involvement in Nam was not sparked by colonialism but the desire for freedom and self-government for the anti-communists in South Vietnam.
We live in a different world today. FAKE NEWS!!! But all is well between America and Viet Nam. As for journalists, the world has moved on from typewriters to laptops and cell phones Only, governments haven’t changed in their disdain for accountability and hostility to freedom of speech and the press.
Cast: Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, David Cross, Bob Odenkirk, Carrie Coon, Alison Brie, Sarah Paulson
Director: Stephen Spielberg
Rating: * * * *