The Post, rated PG-13
The Post is a well-acted and directed film based on true events and intended to deliver a message about the freedom of the press. It is the first acting collaboration of Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks and the first major collaboration between Streep and acclaimed director Steven Spielberg, who rushed the film into theatres just ten months after initially reading the script. The film received six Golden Globe nominations (Best film, director, screenplay, actor, actress and musical score). The film is directed by three-time Oscar winner Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List), and written by Liz Hannah and Oscar winner Josh Singer (Spotlight). For the purposes of this review, I will assume that Hannah’s and Singer’s script is historically accurate, though Ted Baehr of MovieGuide.org in his review of the film calls it “very one-sided, false, superficial left-leaning”.
The film tells the story of Daniel Ellsberg (Mathew Rhys) and his theft of thousands of pages of classified and confidential documents about Vietnam. The papers were the result of a study commissioned by Robert McNamara, portrayed by Bruce Greenwood.
We are told that the U.S. government, spanning four presidential administrations, has been lying to the American people about our involvement in Vietnam. At first, the “Pentagon Papers” were given to Neil Sheehan of the New York Times, who published them before a temporary injunction stopped them from doing so. However, during the injunction, Ellsberg gives the papers to The Washington Post as well.
Three-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady, Sophie’s Choice, Kramer vs. Kramer) portrays Katharine Graham, who assumed the role of publisher of The Washington Post after her husband’s suicide. Sadly, Katharine Graham’s son shot himself to death just two days before the national release of this movie— and in a manner eerily reminiscent of his dad’s suicide more than 50 years ago. Graham was the first woman to run a major daily newspaper in the U.S. and the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump, Philadelphia) portrays the paper’s editor Ben Bradlee. This is Hank’s fifth collaboration with Spielberg.
In possession of the documents that the courts have ruled couldn’t be published, Graham and Bradlee have a decision to make. If they run a story using the information, they could go out of business, as the paper had just gone public and their financing could be pulled from them. Or worse yet, Graham and Bradlee could be arrested. Five- time Oscar winner John Williams (Fiddler on the Roof, Schindler’s List, Jaws, Star Wars and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial), does the musical score.
Streep is superb as the under-appreciated female publisher. The film does a good job to show how little she was thought of and almost invisible at times. Hanks was also excellent as the paper’s editor, Ben Bradlee, who later oversaw the publication of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s stories documenting the Watergate scandal. There is also a solid supporting cast, including three-time Golden Globe nominee Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul) as Ben Bagdikian and Sarah Paulson (American Crime Story) as Tony Bradlee.
Content concerns include a significant amount of adult language, including several abuses of God’s and Jesus’ names. In addition, there is some brief war violence at the beginning of the film. Of course, we need to also take into account that the actual “Pentagon Papers” were stolen by Ellsberg in the first place. We have the moral dilemma of potentially putting people in harm’s way by revealing government and military secrets.
The Post is a well-acted and directed film based on true events that is intended to deliver a message for today. It was interesting to see the social connections and friendships between political figures and the press at that time. We hear Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee state that the press must hold government officials accountable. In this time of “fake news”, Edward Snowden and Wikileaks, however, some viewers might also want to ask who will hold the press accountable.