The Post takes place in the early 1970's and stars Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham, the first female boss of a major American newspaper, The Washington Post. It's her and the main editor, Ben Bradley (Tom Hanks) in a crisis of doing the right thing after a government insider steals and copies some painstaking and classified papers and they get into the hands of reporters. Basically, the Americans at that time were taking part in the Vietnam War. And losing. But the politicians aren't saying so. They always say they are making great progress. One unsure man asks bluntly if it's getting better or worse. His response is, "The same." He scuffs. "If it is the same after losing several of our men, I would say that makes it worse." But here's the catch. The Americans apparently have been losing the war since before Nixon and JFK's presidency, and all these presidents have been keeping this covered up. Why? Because they did not want to inform the American public that their troops were not winning, to keep a fantasyland reputation in check. Unforgivable, right? Well, like Mark Baum from The Big Short, Bradley is short-tempered from a history of misery and Graham is doing everything she can to keep a firm foot on her say in her paper.
Now, I have a fairly decent enjoyment for corruption movies. Some I don't like, however. I haven't written a review yet, but I saw the 1976 film All The Presidents Men, after my interest of Nixon piqued. If I write a full review, I'm going to give it a D. Don't worry, Spotlight and The Big Short are two corruption movies I do like. I at first thought I would love President's Men, especially when Robert Redford's character is calling one of Nixon's employees and then does a blunt lie over the phone that gave me a desire to see that caller be reprimanded for it. I also enjoyed how mysterious it was that everyone was slamming their doors on the Washington Post's reporters. But that was about it. It spent too much time in the newsroom dishing out unimportant names, was hopelessly confusing, overlong, was telling, not showing, the story of the scandal, and had an ending without any of the promised payoff. A lot of others love that movie, though. Come to think of it, that's a pretty solid review alone. And I'm happy to say that The Post has a lot in common with All The Presidents Men, except it was more informative, head-on, and the ability to, ahem, watch between the lines as the story unfolds is smartly penned in.
The movie begins with an American fleet in Vietnam in 1971, when the rest of the movie is. This is from the legendary Steven Spielberg, who made Saving Private Ryan. The first twenty minutes of the catastrophic D-Day Island attack in that movie were so lifelike, some war veterans got PTSD watching it and had to walk out of the theatre in tears and shaking. There's only about a minute of it here, but it has the same somber effectiveness. Now, I was a little worried after the first half hour that this movie was going to spend too much of its run time on how The New York Times is ahead of The Washington Post on publications, and wouldn't give us enough clear and concise details of this scandal that's been going on apparently since 1954. I really wanted to know. It's when we do find out, close to the halfway point, and I couldn't believe it. I guess truth really is stranger, or scarier than fiction.
I also like how Graham and Bradley are both given back stories that don't get in the way. Yes, Graham is a woman in a high level of authority, but she also had a son who perished in the Vietnam war. And Bradley and her wife were friends with John F. Kennedy, and Bradley saw Kennedy as a friend rather than a source but someone who meant dearly to Kennedy, or Jack as Bradley called him, didn't see it that way. When Graham has to decide on the right thing to do in the climax, Meryl Streep gives us a minute of the camera zooming in on her, pandering, and we can read her through her tense eyes perfectly.
I sort of wish we got a little bit more insight, such as how the other presidents reacted to the lie and if they meant for it to go on, and maybe a beginning where we could understand a bit more of what it is the newspapers were running around straining their vocal chords doing. The ending is also a little bit rushed and uninformative but at least it doesn't resort to telling the big end of the story through text like a lot of biography movies do. Sometimes it works, but for this story, when the entire paper was at stake, it's a lot better to keep going while there's still a chance someone will be jumping off the building. And I won't spoil the final scene of this movie, but it's tremulous in the right ways, frightening, creative, and it's the sort of thing Steven Spielberg would do. I don't like all of his films but he did this one well, and the best thing it does is remind us, like Spotlight, of the importance of a patient, humane and competent press.