If you’re someone who either earns their living with words, or at least gets their kicks out of same (that’d be me), then there’s something really appealing about a solid, sleeves-rolled-up tale of investigative journalism. Think All the President’s Men, or The Paper, or The Insider… Capote, Good Night and Good Luck. Seeking sources, asking questions and then communicating facts with words. A lost art in many respects, and interesting to note that of those aforementioned films, almost all of them are period pieces.
Add to this list Steven Spielberg’s latest, The Post, a quick fire depiction of the Washington Post’s efforts to publish details from the Pentagon Papers, and the ensuing efforts of the Nixon administration to curb their enthusiasm for the First Amendment. Enough has been written about the fourth estate these days and what the current US executive branch thinks of them, but to say that this film is timely is the acme of understatement.
The film fits neatly in Spielberg’s canon alongside his most recent ‘serious’ picture, the 2015 drama Bridge of Spies – thoughtful, detailed, in no rush or propelled by any need to dazzle with style or trickery. It, like The Post, was a tale that unfolds at the right tempo; provides background, and delivers its exposition in a way that allows is characters and its narrative to breathe. It’s a film for adults, mercifully.
Meryl Streep. OK. Now, you’d think that someone like this, who has been making an impact on screen and getting awards and nominations since The Deer Hunter in 1978 … that we’d be sick of it all now. That she’d have nothing left up her sleeve. But in The Post, she gets to play Katherine Graham in a new way – she finds new notes to play; Graham as the one woman in a room full of men; hers is the final word on anything, it being her company and all, but still intimidated by her surrounds, not so much because she’s actually intimidated, but because the greater social expectation is on her to be that way. She finds in Graham grace under pressure, and has in this film a few glorious moments, all of which are beautifully understated by her and brilliantly captured by Spielberg’s lens.
Tom Hanks looks to be having the time of his life, befitting the portrayal of Ben Bradlee. Immediate (and quite frankly, lazy) comparisons will be made to Jason Robards in All the President’s Men, but this performance works on its own. He has the man’s style, look and voice down, and plays Bradlee as dogged and forthright; not willing to let corporate dictate editorial, or to let government have a say in what gets published. This period piece – its set in 1971 – shows the old school typesetting process long since retired, and there’s a wonderful confluence between how the newsroom is depicted and the way Spielberg places his actors within it. Much credit to must go to Liz Hannah and Josh Singer’s script; it’s not filled with quotable moments, just solid, believable dialogue.
This is very much a film for the times. While it doesn’t have the emotional impact of Spielberg’s other top-tier dramas, it stands alone as just a great, rollicking and well-told tale for the times.