The Post: Majestic, stunning and utterly relevant
The Post is the prequel that All the President's Men richly deserves and its ideals of 1971 are certainly not out of place in 2017
All the President's Men is the gold standard for films based on journalism. It was an important film at an important time that talked about journalistic values and how a truly free press with the best intentions at heart can make a difference as long as they don't lose sight of that one thing they are after - Truth. 41 years after its release, The Post is the prequel that All the President's Men richly deserves as it talks about how Ben Bradlee and his team at a small local newspaper burst on to national consciousness and got the gumption and drive to fire back at a lying administration in the first place.
Cast: Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Matthew Rhys, Bruce Greenwood, Sarah Paulson, Bradley Whitford
Director: Steven Spielberg
Daniel Ellsberg (Mathew Rhys), a DoD researcher in South Asian sector, gets disillusioned with the government after he sees them adopting a conflicting stand on the Vietnam war opposed by the facts at hand. He turns whistleblower, gets the Pentagon Papers out of Rand Corporation, photocopies and sends it to the New York Times who publish it. Meanwhile, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), The Post's Executive Editor, is wrestling with a very important decision - how to cover the wedding of the daughter of the President. NYT's front page comes with the Pentagon Papers expose while The Post carries photos from the marriage. Ben is aghast but cannot do anything about it except carry excerpts from the NYT's stories until three days later, the Court bars the publication from carrying any of the research papers, and at the same time, The Post gets the story and the rest of the research papers. He now has a decision to make. But more important than that is the decision of the publisher and owner of the Washington Post, Katharine Graham, played by a majestic Meryl Streep.
Journalistic films such as All The President's Men and Spotlight (which incidentally shares a writer with The Post in Josh Singer) are usually about the news gathering beat, but this is where The Post becomes more than that. It is written from the point of view of Kay Graham, a female in a male dominated world. One scene has Kay sitting for dinner with NYT's Abe Rosenthal and his wife when Neil Sheehan (the reporter who broke the Pentagon Papers) comes and tells him about the injunction order. The camera which has both Kay and Abe in the frame shifts focus from the latter to the former to subtly show us on whom the focus is going to be going forward. The story is as much about the personal, professional and political fallout of the newspaper as it is about Kay's growth, from a reluctant heir to one of the most powerful women in journalism.
"When you’re told time and time again that you’re not good enough, that your opinion doesn’t matter as much, when they don’t just look past you, when to them you’re not even there, when that’s been your reality for so long, it’s hard not to let yourself think it’s actually true." Sarah Paulson, who plays Tony, Ben's wife, is in the film for this one dialogue but it is an important one at a crucial juncture. With just that one dialogue she cuts his self-importance to size and raises the profile of Kay, on whose decision, the entire freedom of the press now rests. The scene that follows, especially the framing of it, is masterful Spielberg. Kay Graham is sitting at the head of the dining table, with all the men who want the decision to go in their favour surrounding her, suffocating her like a pack of hungry wolves who are rounding up their prey. And in that frame, stands Ben Bradlee, far from this coterie, just looking at Kay and waiting for her decision. He understands his position, has given her the options and now he gives her the space to make her decision. Kay rises from her chair with a swagger that she doesn't have till that moment. She walks away from the pack, stands toe-to-toe with Ben, asks him the all important question and makes up her mind. It's breathtaking.
Tom Hanks is a far cry from the macho Ben Bradlee played by Jason Robards in All The President's Men but he is nothing short of earnest at every single moment. When he cries, "We have to be the check on their power. If we don’t hold them accountable — my god, who will?”, you nod your head willingly. Another incredible scene occurs when Ben Bagdikian (an utterly fantastic Bob Odenkirk in a shoo-in for Best Supporting Actor nomination) tells Bradlee, "I have always wanted to be a part of a small rebellion" and gives him a brown paper bag with the papers which Bradlee promptly takes to Kay's office and lays them out for her in a whistle-worthy moment.
The film ends with the judgement that has these words, "the press was to serve the governed, not the governors." Stunningly relevant in a world populated by attacks on the free press with shouts of fake news, The Post and its ideals of 1971 are certainly not out of place in 2017.