Frances Winston enjoyed this gripping and entertaining treatement of this true-life political thriller
Directed by: Steven Spielberg – Starring: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Rhys
A true-life political thriller, directed by a cinematic powerhouse, starring two of the finest actors of their generations, and scored by a movie-music legend, is surely the most Oscar aspiring movie you will see this awards season. It certainly ticks many of the Academy’s boxes.
The events depicted involve the printing of classified documents about the Vietnam War, by first The New York Times, and later The Washington Post. If you’re under 35, chances are you’ve never heard of this, as it preceded the far more famous Watergate scandal. However, it was a big deal that challenged the very core of the American Constitution.
Here Streep and Hanks take on the role of Kay Graham and Ben Bradlee, the publisher and editor of The Washington Post respectively. Graham was a society doyenne, and anxious about the impact of printing the leaked Pentagon Papers, but Bradlee pushed to run them, despite an injunction taken out against the New York Times, preventing further publication on their part.
While it might all seem pretty pedestrian by the standards of today’s scandals, this was a huge deal at the time, and caused national uproar in America, as it was revealed that the powers that be had lied to the public about the War.
Spielberg does a very good job of telling us the story. We are guided through the facts, and he really captures the idea that historical actions, which may appear to be the most obvious choice in the world, were often difficult decisions to make for people, and came at great personal cost.
While this is all well and good (and informative) what he doesn’t do is take the viewer along on the ride. Everything is so cleanly and precisely laid out that there is no sense of suspense here, which really would have tipped this into great movie territory. Also, some of the historical references may be lost on those who weren’t aware of them.
He’s chosen well in his leads, and it’s astonishing to think that Hanks and Streep have never worked together before. They bounce off each other beautifully, and the dialogue is full of rat-a-tat back and forths that they both do so well. The supporting cast are also magnificent, and no-one ever drops the ball.
Visually they have totally captured the era, and the sets and costumes are fantastic. Especially noteworthy is the detail in the printroom scenes, which shows the once painstaking process of typsetting a newspaper. It is attention to detail like this that makes Spielberg great.
Overall this is gripping and entertaining. You may already know the outcome, but you’ll enjoy the journey anyway. It is somewhat passive in its approach to telling the story, and even if you don’t know the facts, it’s painfully obvious that they have downplayed the role of The New York Times in the saga, in order to focus on the colourful characters at the helm of the Washington Post.
This quibble aside though, The Post compellingly brings to life a sometimes forgotten historical moment, whose impact on the media is still felt today. An extremely good movie, but not a great one, this is nonetheless impressive and worth the price of your cinema admission ticket, not least because of the masterful work of the people involved.
In Cinemas January 19th! See Trailer Below: