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‘The Post’: A love letter to good old journalism

Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep collaborate to bring out an inescapably timely and pertinent film

Two months into Donald Trump’s presidency, Meryl Streep famously took to the stage at the 74th Golden Globes, and delivered arguably the first vociferous criticism of the billionaire by a Hollywood celebrity. “We need the principled press to hold power to account, to call them on the carpet for every outrage,” she said to a charged up audience, nodding at her every word. A year later, The Post seems like an organic extension of her speech.

In 1971, Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep), heir to the Washington Post, did exactly that — called the Richard Nixon government on the carpet for their political and military involvement in Vietnam. It’s a moment in American history that is well documented — in journalistic archives, academia and the arts. On a day the The New York Times first scooped the Pentagon Papers, the Washington Post splashed Tricia Nixon’s wedding on their front page. When the Times courts legal trouble and is shushed by the government, the Post is left with the lucrative, yet destructive, opportunity to publish the rest of the leaked documents. It’s a move editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) strongly advocates for, but the decision lies with Graham, the publisher who could risk losing her already doddering newspaper.

The Post
  • Director: Steven Spielberg
  • Cast: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Rhys
  • Story line: The Washington Post is faced with a dilemma to publish the Pentagon Papers and risk legal trouble

Journalists are often applauded for the stories that they tell, but in the The Post, they become the story themselves. It’s an unabashed homage to old-school, traditional journalism, where newspaper reporting was paramount, and facts — irreplaceable. Since then, the world of journalism may have changed drastically, but the strange sense of deja vu remains — the looming presence of “alternative facts”. As the film opens in the jungles of Vietnam, the reality is in contrast to the the one the Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) paints to the press in the States. Not much has changed, you think, perhaps world over, which is what makes Steven Spielberg’s film inescapably timely and pertinent.

 

Through haunting cinematography by Janusz Kamiński, Spielberg creates an ideal atmosphere where the press is ethical and impactful, but it is Streep and Hanks who truly exemplify the reality of dilemmas, personal interests and proximity to politicians. Despite Jason Robards immortalising Ben Bradlee in All the President’s Men (1971) and winning the Academy Award for it, Hanks carves a distinct identity for the journalist. Hank’s Bradlee is passionate but not fanatic, conflicted but not dubious, persuasive but not aggressive.

As for Graham, there are very few actors like Meryl Streep who can take a character burdened with running a wobbly business, dealing with a roomful of patrionising men as a female leader, being friends with the politicians she is set to expose, and not exhaust her emotions right at the onset. Streep paces herself proficiently to build up to the historic decision, where she is visibly addled, frightened, vulnerable but also self-assured and determined. She possesses the rare quality of exposing her thoughts, without saying a word.

“News is the first rough draft of history,” Streep says, in the film. Spielberg chronicles those who documented the period which seemed unprecedentedly chaotic and politically volatile. But it’s a film like The Post that illustrates how easily time bends and doubles back.

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Printable version | Mar 28, 2020 6:26:39 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/a-love-letter-to-good-old-journalism/article22431664.ece

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