Directed by Steven Spielberg, The Post tells the story of Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep), the first female publisher of a major American newspaper, the Washington Post. Set in the later years of the Vietnam War, Katherine and her editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) suddenly find themselves in the possession of papers exposing the American government’s cover-ups. As her shareholders are growing anxious and question her ability to lead, she and Bradlee must decide whether they will put their careers—and lives—at risk by publishing the truth that they have uncovered in an effort to hold their elected leaders accountable for their actions.
Despite its 1970s setting, The Post feels like Spielberg’s most urgent film in years. With an energetic script, each actor within the film attacks their roles with a ferocity and passion that bleeds off the screen. While one could argue that the film looks on paper as simple Oscar bait (Spielberg! Hanks! Streep! Together at last!), the truth is that, regardless of the size of their role, every performer within the film appears actively invested in the project. As a result, the film sparkles, eliciting shades of classics like The Conversation or All the President’s Men yet seems entirely relevant to the current political landscape. Given the film’s message of freedom for the press and the courage of women, The Post is not exactly subtle with its intentions, arguably the film’s greatest flaw. (“Nothing less than the integrity of the presidency is at stake!” someone exclaims.) However, the intensity of the film coupled with truly remarkable performances across the board prevent it from being simply another ‘message movie’.
In light of this, one of the most interesting aspects of the film is its passion for truth. While it seems obvious that a film about revealing the flaws of the government would have an overarching theme of truth, The Post seems genuinely interested in offering the concept of truth as a universal construct as opposed to basing it on one’s subjectivity. Whereas many modern narratives, whether it’s The Last Jedi to Lady Bird, bases truth on one’s perspective or feeling, this film depicts truth as an objective, higher standard to which we’re all held accountable.
In The Post, truth is a calling.
Interestingly though, the film also manages to resist painting characters by the simple brushstrokes of ‘hero’ and ‘villain’. Whereas Spielberg could have presented characters like McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) or Arther Parsons (Bradley Whitford) as purely evil, he also shows
their desire to do good, albeit by their own standards. As a result, these characters aren’t considered bad because they actively oppose truth. Rather, their actions are bad because they seem naive—or worse, disinterested—in heeding what is objectively wrong. Issues ranging from accountability of government to women’s rights are highlighted by the outdated attitudes and morals of a culture that fears change and these are characters refuse to admit to themselves that they’ve become lost. These are not mustache-twirling criminals but flawed human beings whose misguided actions have real consequences. As such, there is a cost to truth as well. McNamara may argue that ‘it’s easy for the papers to paint us as liars…’ but, by these standards, that is who they are. While these sorts of realizations are painful at times—especially when you consider how we idolize people in authority (or historically)—they also create space for new beginnings when truth is objective.
The Post reminds us that there is still a place for recognizing an objective, external standard of right and wrong that is also imbued with hope. At a time in our culture where administrations trending movements such as #MeToo reveal the damage that has remained in the shadows and caused by people in power, this film is a reminder that there is hope that lies in the truth.
The Post is in theatres now.