Steven Spielberg / USA / 2017 / 116 mins
Released on Fri 23 Feb 2018 at the Edinburgh Filmhouse
A film about historical presidential corruption, conspiracy, lies and lack of integrity seems a timely release given the current state of affairs. This is all about the press in a time where the administration sought to aggressively curtail freedom of speech in a bid to limit reporters’ ability to uncover dark and dirty secrets. It’s no small filmic event, either, a collaboration of among the mightiest and most respected of Hollywood’s glitterati (at a time when, ironically, Hollywood’s sinister shadow side is being exposed), capable of causing quite a ripple.
The Washington Post caused more than a ripple in its publication of the detail found in the Pentagon Papers, surrounding the contentious Vietnam war. The newspaper took an immense legal and commercial risk in leaking these confidential documents, the events running up to which are dramatised in this movie to ensure we fully understand the intensity of the decision. For such a stellar team, it’s surprisingly slow and at times even a little dull for just over the first half, with lots of scene-setting political and press meetings. Fortunately, once it does get going, it’s quite a thrill and the slow burn is arguably needed to set up the suspense and drama of the last segment.
Meryl Streep is predictably good as Katharine Graham, the wealthy housewife turned Washington Post chief, who carries the weight of the final say on her unprepared shoulders. Much is made in the film of the unexpected nature of her role and her husband’s prior suicide, leaving her in charge of the paper formerly owned by her father. As the first female publisher of an American newspaper she was a trailblazer in more ways than one and her legacy is certainly deserving of the big screen treatment.
Tom Hanks is also predictably good as executive editor Ben Bradlee, the persuasive, stubborn voice in her ear, willing her to give the go-ahead to publishing the explosive truth. Spielberg creates a believable world of early 1970s journalism, emphasising the often co-dependent relationships between high flying members of the press and key politicians – even presidents.
The star of the show here is undoubtedly the story and The Post is certainly worth watching for this alone. It’s a timely tale of shocking cover-ups and the eventual (albeit much later than needed) triumph of truth and justice in a free world.