The Past We Repeat - The Post
If there was ever a time for a reminder about the importance of print journalism, this is it. Politics aside, our current climate is fraught with contention between government officials and members of the news media. It seems like we are reminded daily that the last time things were this bad between the White House and the media was the Nixon administration, which happens to be the story at the center of the The Post. Steven Spielberg knows how to make movies. Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks know how to make movies. That their tremendous talents do justice to the subject is not a surprise, but the tension they bring to the arguably mundane process of reporting and printing stories is. This is peak drama and Spielberg not only makes sure you feel the stakes; he also makes sure you understand they are just as high today.
The film opens with shots from the Vietnam War. Tracing from Truman to Eisenhower to Kennedy to Johnson to Nixon, we see multiple administrations hiding the truth about the futility of the War from the American people. When a group of academics are asked to chronicle how remote the chances of success are, one (played by Matthew Rhys) decides he has had enough of young men dying for a hopeless war. When he tries to share what are called The Pentagon Papers with the New York Times, the government blocks their publishing efforts. When The Washington Post finds out about this, they face an agonizing decision on whether to publish and potentially be put out of business.
The woman at the center of the story is Katharine "Kay" Graham (played marvelously by Meryl Streep). Her father founded the paper and he left it to her husband when he died because sexism was the rule of the day. When her husband died, Kay finally ran the paper that had been in her family her whole life. She faced second-guessing from men who didn't think she was capable and a series of colossal decisions that would make or break the future of the paper. Aided by her editor, Ben Bradley (played by Tom Hanks), she does everything she can to protect her legacy, her business and the American people.
If that description sounds like the stakes were on 11, it's because they were. These were heady times and no one was quite sure what the rules should be. Every day, the Nixon Administration was coming up with new ways to thwart what it viewed as a meddlesome press. Much like today, reporters were personas non grata in the White House. Spielberg captures both the big and small ways this played out and manages to do it with enough style to feel like a modern and fresh commentary on our current moment.
But regardless of how much meat is on the bones of this story, as with anything starring Meryl Streep, she is the very best part. Her every look and phrase captures a woman on rails. She conveys the weight of this moment in both a historical and personal context. Kay grows throughout the story--from the frazzled initial moments to the sure-handed conclusion--and Streep rises to every bit of the occasion. It is almost a foregone conclusion at this point that she is going to do amazing work, but I can't let the opportunity to praise her pass. She is sublime.
The total package is so well put together and so well-acted that it seems destined to become a classic. In the coming years, we might come to appreciate this even more, as we move closer and closer to the reality it warns against.
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