Post, The (2017)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Impeccably acted and executed with a high level of verve common to memorable historical dramas, Steven Spielberg’s “The Post,” on the surface, is about the publication of the Pentagon Papers, top-secret documents that spans three decades with regards to the United States’ role in Vietnam, the resulting quicksand war, including the government’s lies and manipulation of the American people, but look a little more carefully and realize it is an exploration of the role The Washington Post, under the leadership of publisher Kay Graham, in continuing to inform Americans of the contents within the aforementioned classified documents after The New York Times was stopped by the Nixon administration from reporting any further about the leaks.
Meryl Streep plays the publisher who, over time, becomes willing to risk her company, fortune, and reputation for the sake of truth. Graham’s evolution from a woman who holds a title but not the respect that should come with it to a strong leader who leaves the room in silence once her decision is made is consistently intriguing. The veteran director ensures that the requisite rollercoaster ride of emotions that come with such a journey are not only present but that the viewers are thoroughly engaged with every turn of events.
The power of Spielberg’s control and Streep’s range, from behind and in front of the camera, respectively, are in perfect unison during an early scene where Graham is in a meeting with bankers and members of the company’s board—all of whom are white male. Questions demand the publisher’s input at times but these are always directed to the spectacled man next to her. For emphasis, Spielberg never places the camera from Graham’s side of the long table. As the subject struggles to speak up and realizes that her presence is merely a formality, decoration, the camera patiently inches toward Streep’s face for a detailed close-up. Although Streep’s face begins to dominate the screen, she is able to make us feel how small, how humiliated, Graham must feel at that moment.
Equally intriguing, in content and tone, is how the source of the leak (Matthew Ryhs) is tracked down by Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk), one of the journalists for the Post. Despite a high-stakes situation, the screenplay by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer establishes contrast by providing just enough room for light humor. Odenkirk does plenty with the limitations of the way the character is written. (Most of the time he is talking to someone on an office telephone or a payphone.) It helps that the performer looks like a convincing experienced journalist who is desperate to get to the contractor who acquired the highly controversial documents. I wished the character had more detail to him.
The narrative drive behind “The Post” is appealing because the story is supported by a natural ebb and flow of white-knuckle suspense and light amusement, spearheaded by leads who deliver top-notch performances. And yet not once do we forget that the themes it explores are serious and timely. It is a great reminder that we, as Americans, tend to take the First Amendment for granted.