More often than not, journalism movies are a hit. From His Girl Friday (1940) to Absence of Malice (1981) to Spotlight (2015), journalism movies have thrilled audience with stories about revealing scandal and injustice. Steven Spielberg’s latest venture, a thrilling newspaper drama titled The Post, starring Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, and just about every other actor out there like Bob Odenkirk, Sarah Paulson, Carrie Coon, and Allison Brie, doesn’t disappoint.
I know, I know, another Spielberg period piece starring two of the biggest names in Hollywood. What’s new? But before your eyes roll into the back of your head, hear me out: The Post is good, predictable at times, but good. It’s the story of Katharine Graham, the woman who ran The Washington Post before it became The Washington Post. For folks familiar with the Watergate Scandal, Nixon’s impeachment, and All the President’s Men (1976), The Post centers on the Pentagon papers, which revealed the truth behind the Vietnam War. It was the scandal that got the impeachment ball rolling. In short, from the beginning of the war to its end, the government knew that the U.S. was on the losing side. Despite careful research and investigation, they continued to send troops into battle, each president making sure that the U.S.’s inevitable failure in Vietnam wouldn’t fall on them.
Prior to the Pentagon papers, The Washington Post was a small scale, local paper that worked effortlessly to attain the story that would push them into the big leagues. While journalism is a major theme throughout the film, what makes The Post worthwhile is that it’s not journalism movie. At its core, the film is about Katharine Graham, who at the end of the day risked everything in order to publish the truth.
Katharine Graham’s story isn’t unknown, but it’s not well-known either. First-time screenwriter Liz Hannah was inspired by Katharine’s story after reading a biography on the company’s leader. With the help of Spotlight’s co-writer, Josh Singer, the two were able to create an original, thrilling story about investigative journalism.
Katharine inherited the local newspaper from her father, but it was her husband’s untimely death that pushed her to the forefront of the company. Surrounded by overpowering male board members who want nothing more than her resignation, The Post follows Katharine’s transition from the self-doubting, incapable woman she believes she is to critical thinking, intelligent, and outspoken CEO she eventually becomes.
While the film centers on Katharine, physically she makes up only about a third of the film, maybe even a little less. The majority of the screen is made up the investigation itself. Basically, the process of obtaining the Pentagon papers while simultaneously competing with The New York Times, all while maneuvering around President Nixon who at the time was doing everything in his power to silence the press. But despite Streep’s limited screen time, her presence is felt throughout. She’s the foundation of the story and in order to understand the power she held and the impact she had on both The Washington Post and the future of journalism as a whole, it’s essential to understand the overwhelming pressure she was forced to face.
The Post has obvious faults, such as its too-obvious message about freedom of the press, its feel good ending that wraps up entirely too cheerfully that you remember you’re sitting in the middle of a theater, and its noticeable lack of diversity. Nevertheless, it holds an inspirational message that we all have read before but in today’s climate, it doesn’t hurt to hear it again: Keep fighting the good fight because injustice is not sustainable.
There are a lot of other reasons to the see the movie: the stunning production design by Rick Carter, the breathtaking camera work by Janusz Kamiński, another captivating score by John Williams, and all those supporting roles played by some of our favorites. Basically, all the things that make Spielberg movies, Spielberg movies. It’s worth mentioning that while Hanks provides another enjoyable performance, Streep brings something entirely new and compelling to the screen. It wouldn’t be a surprise if she received another Academy Award nomination for her performance, but it would be well deserved.
The Post’s relevancy is inevitable. Since he-who-must-not-be-named was elected, people have been reflecting on the symmetry between the two presidents. Just last month, Slate released a (fantastic) podcast called Slow Burn that digs into the history of Nixon, the Pentagon papers, and the Watergate Scandal. If you’re looking for an inspirational boost this December, The Post is a good place to start.
Top image: The Post
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Samantha Ladwig is a writer, book reviewer, and the owner of Imprint Bookstore in Port Townsend, Washington. Her work has been published by New York Magazine, Bustle, Real Simple, Vice, Bust Magazine, and others. Find her at www.samanthaladwig.com.