‘The Post’ is the Tribute to Journalism We Need Right Now (FILM REVIEW)

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Much of the modern disdain towards media and media practices can be traced back to the 70s and how reporters treated President Richard Nixon. Tricky Dick was hit with the one-two punch of scandals that first crippled and then ended his political career. Most notable was the Watergate scandal, which was reported on by the Washington Post at a time when no one else was bothering to investigate. Using unnamed sources, reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein published a series of investigative pieces that shook Washington to its core and ended the Nixon administration.

The events of Watergate have become ingrained in the consciousness of America, and have been revisited and analyzed cinematically innumerable times in the decades since. All the President’s Men, of course, and even as recently as this year’s Mark Felt-The Man Who Brought Down the White House. It’s a fine tale, one that is, rightly, lauded as the paramount of journalistic duty and responsibility. It’s also important to remember that it came on the heels of the publication of the Pentagon Papers.

Steven Spielberg explores the drama surrounding the Papers in his latest incendiary production, The Post. Not only is it the director’s finest film since 2002 (whether I mean Catch Me if You Can or Minority Report, I’ll leave for you to decide), it’s also one of the finest cinematic portrayals of journalistic intrigue ever produced, standing shoulder to shoulder with All the President’s Men as a giant of genre.

Co-writers Liz Hannah and Josh Singer (the latter of which co-wrote Best Picture winner Spotlight) have crafted a taut and suspenseful study on the realities of journalism that so often go ignored and unknown. If All the President’s Men was about reporting and Spotlight about investigative practices, The Post is a story about the banal, day to day struggles of finding and writing about the news, as well as the business practices of newspapers.

In another context that might be boring, but tethered to the story of the Pentagon Papers and the exposing of the corruption leading up to and during the Vietnam War, it makes for riveting cinema. It takes a special kind of writing to make board room meetings and late night business decisions edge-of-your-seat entertainment—especially when the outcome is already determined and etched into the stone tablets of history—but The Post is exactly that.

It’s not hurt by the fact that its cast is loaded with talent. Any movie featuring Tom Hanks or Meryl Streep is worth watching on those merits alone, but putting them both in a film together is cause enough for celebration. Hanks and Streep play legendary WaPo editor Ben Bradlee and publisher Katherine Graham. The first scene these two powerhouses of American acting share together is positively electric, and worth the cost of admission alone, but they’re far from the only reasons to stick around.

They’re joined by a cast of powerful co-stars, including Bob Odenkirk, David Cross, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Alison Brie, and that’s just scratching the surface. Often, when actors are stacked on top of each other like this, they wind up being lost in the fray. Hannah and Singer’s script, as well as Spielberg’s direction, allows them all to be balanced out and utilized impressively. Even the actors who only have a scene or two are given the room to flex their craft and each of them shine in their own right.

But forget about the talent behind The Post for a minute. As much as Spielberg, Hanks, Streep, et al bring to this particular table, what’s truly marvelous is how well the film handles and explores its themes. Through the banalities of journalism, The Post examines the reasons for and responsibilities of journalism. What truths do we, the public, deserve to know? By what processes are these truths uncovered, verified, and reported? Who determines what’s newsworthy?

Ironically, what pushed WaPo into the forefront of American journalism was Nixon’s attempts to silence them by any means. Whether he was denying them credentials to cover his daughter’s wedding, denying them access to press conferences, or by suing them to stop the publication of the Pentagon Papers, he gave the once local publication the juice that eventually enabled them to lead the charge that led to his resignation.

That fight, in some form or another, still rages on to this day. Today’s political structure uses Nixon’s penchant for obfuscation with the benefit of having learned from Nixon’s mistakes. Those still sore over Nixon’s resignation, who’ve spearheaded the explosion of alternative journalism in the last decade, play their part and blur the lines between truth and lies just enough to bring into question the solidity of everything, including reality.

We live in an era of subjective reality, where consensus truth can be disregarded for the sake of personal opinion, where objective facts can be discounted for going against our worldviews, where truth we don’t like can be dismissed as fake in favor of the falsehoods we’d prefer. It used to be that our worldviews were informed by fact, and even disagreement shared the common bonds of objective truth. Today, our worldviews are informed by opinion, and the truth that once held us together is fractured and tenuous. In these times, The Post stands as a monument to the gathering of truth, and what it means to be a journalist.

The Post is now playing in limited release.

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