Review: The Post

PLOT: The Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep) and executive editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) do battle with the Nixon White House when they opt to publish “The Pentagon Papers”, a damning, leaked history of the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War.

REVIEW: THE POST comes along at an ideal moment. In a time when many citizens are casting a suspicious eye towards their government and the news media has taken a beating, it’s worth looking back at an era when the fifth estate did battle with the Nixon White House in order to publish a report they thought the people had a right to see. Many look upon the current 24hr news cycle with suspicion, but here’s a story where the newspaper folks were the genuine good guys, with many of them risking their freedom to blow the lid off the U.S involvement in Vietnam, a precursor to the Watergate scandal which brought down the White House.

It’s certainly material Steven Spielberg is well-suited to, and it’s especially impressive that he managed to shoot and edit the film while in post-production on his mammoth adaptation of READY PLAYER ONE. One can’t deny THE POST, for all its strengths, is second-tier Spielberg, but then again, that is still a lot better than first-tier efforts from less-accomplished directors.

It fits in nicely with his recent output, all of which have been good to very good, although I wager he hasn’t done a truly excellent film since MUNICH. No matter, THE POST is an entertaining run-down of the days leading up to “The Washington Post” running The Pentagon Papers, and it’s a solid companion piece to Ken Burns’ recent “The Vietnam War” doc on PBS.

Outside of a prologue that shows their author Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) embedded with a Vietnam Unit during a bloody battle, and his subsequent theft of the documents, the focus is directly on those in The Washington Post’s sphere. What’s intriguing is how Spielberg, along with writers Liz Hannah & Josh Singer, shows exactly what went into the publication. Typically when we see a movie like ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN and SPOTLIGHT, the time is spent on the journalists blowing the case open. Here, we see how the story was pursued, with Tom Hanks’s Bradlee assigning his best reporters to the case, with one of his most dogged writers, Ben Bagdikian (a strong supporting part for Bob Odenkirk – whose former Mr. Show co-star David Cross also turns up) eventually coming into their possession. Most movies would have ended right there – but this is the moment when THE POST really kicks into high gear.

It’s not enough that Bradlee’s gang got the story, but whether they can actually even run it becomes the focal point of the drama, with it celebrating the courage of Graham – with Meryl Streep ideally cast. Here, she becomes the protagonist, with her forced to navigate her high society position, her own friendship with Defense Secretary Robert McNamara (an excellent Bruce Greenwood), and her misogynist board of directors, with only one of them unquestionably having her back through it all (another fine part for playwright/actor Tracy Letts).

It all adds up to a talky but fine film, tighter than the recent BRIDGE OF SPIES, although on the downside there are relatively few opportunities for Spielberg to assemble any really deft set pieces, making this more of the LINCOLN school. As always, the casting, right down to the smallest parts (with Alison Brie in a virtual cameo as Graham’s daughter), is impeccable, as is the craft its director brings to it. Overall, it’s a solid history lesson, and one that should connect well with a wide audience, even though I have my doubts that decades from now it’ll be counted as one of his major efforts – even if it does win a slew of Oscars.

Review: The Post




About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.