Thursday, 15 February 2018

Film Review | The Post (2018)

image source: dreamworks pictures/20th century fox/amblin entertainment

Written during the Trump campaign trail and released during his presidency, Steven Spielberg’s The Post could not have arrived at a more poignant turning point in America’s governmental and political history. After reading Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham’s memoir Personal History, screenwriter Liz Hannah took her monumentally inspirational story and turned it into a viable script which would eventually be sold soon after, becoming Hannah’s first feature film.

Quickly enlisting Spielberg as director, and Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep in the leading roles of Graham and executive editor of The Washington Post Ben Bradlee. Once production began, screenwriter Josh Singer (Spotlight) was partnered with Hannah, to aid the on-set writing experience that Hannah did not have. 

Seen as a spiritual prequel to Alan J. Pakula’s 1976 political thriller All the President’s Men, The Post establishes and explores not only the beginnings of Richard Nixon’s fall from grace but a cover-up that spanned thirty years and ran within four administrations inside the White House. 

The classified secrets were revealed via the Pentagon Papers; former United States military analyst Daniel Ellsberg (portrayed by Matthew Rhys) released the top-secret files, which detailed a study of decision-making within the U.S. Government relating to the actions made during the Vietnam War, including the notion that the war was never going to be won. 

Ellsberg leaked these documents first to The New York Times, who published the report promptly on their front page in 1971. After assistant editor for The Washington Post Ben Bagdikan (portrayed by Bob Odenkirk) tracks Ellsberg down, Ellsberg provides Bagdikan with copies of the Pentagon Papers given to The Times. Spielberg ups the stakes – and pace – once Bradlee and his team have their hands on the papers and demonstrates the power and necessity of free press and its role ‘to serve the governed, not the governors.’ 

Spielberg navigates the complexities and tribulations presented in The Post with little to no generic action. He does so by utilizing the frenzy and fast-paced nature of newsrooms and the intensity of boardroom meetings to enforce a rapid tempo, keeping the narrative moving forward without falling prey to the inevitable lulls found in some political thrillers. There’s also the impact and significance of Graham’s personal story as publisher of The Post, defined by Hanks as ‘the week Katherine Graham became Katherine Graham.’

This journey also sheds light on the reality for many women in Graham’s field, especially when it came to what happened in a boardroom when a woman of significant power such as Graham would be surrounded by men essentially dictating her decisions for her, as depicted in the film. Graham’s rise to power – and the prominent rise in her self-confidence – is what ultimately steals the show, alongside Streep’s adaptability as an actress to portray a prominent figure such as Graham in the most formative week of her life. 

Some may say that Bradlee was instrumental Graham’s confidence and success; his brashness and bravado - demonstrated by Hanks - in the newsroom amongst his colleagues suggests his prominence and power as an executive editor. However, Graham ultimately has the last say in every matter presented, and she is certainly not swayed by even her closest colleagues. During its climatic peak, there is a chaotic conference call where Michael Kahn and Sarah Broshar’s editing translates the male voices simultaneously speaking feel like Graham’s conscious. She stays silent throughout the calamity, knowing that when they finish ‘mansplaining’, she gets the final say. She knows that she has the deciding power, and she owns it. 

That’s the heart of The Post; it’s the growth of Graham’s self-confidence and trust within herself that allows her to preside over The Washington Post during a crucial two-year period between the publishing of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, and reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s investigation that would uncover the famed Watergate scandal. 

The Spielberg delicacy is in full force, utilizing his signature long continuous shots, meticulously cluttered and realistic set designs and slow zooms to keep characters captivating in notable moments (in collaboration with Janusz Kaminski and his beautifully muted yet tonal cinematography). 

All this, of course, is set in front of a dramatically crucial score provided by long-time collaborator John Williams, who strangely yet perfectly combines his recognizably orchestral compositions with light but noticeable electronic elements that fill silent moments with a strange tenseness. 

In an era marred with ‘fake news’ and another administration trying to silence the free press, The Post is not only an important film for this point in time, but an imperative time capsule demonstrating that shady, distrustful and misleading events occurring behind the closed doors of the White House cannot be hidden forever. It will rear its ugly head in one way or another, whether that be through leaked documents or scandalous tapes obtained after an investigation into a break-in to a certain Democratic National Committee headquarters at a certain office complex. 

Who knows, history does repeat itself after all. 

The Post is in UK cinemas now, distributed by Universal Pictures.


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