Simon Dillon reviews the film based on the true story of the leaked Pentagon Papers scandal in the early 1970s.

The Post

Steven Spielberg's The Post is another example of what I have come to call his "elder statesman" films , alongside previous examples Bridge of Spies and Lincoln. Like those films, The Post is possessed of an absolute belief in the decency inherent in the US constitution, and in common with Bridge of Spies specifically, it uses Tom Hanks as the everyman mouthpiece for such humanitarian tub-thumping, this time about the freedom of the press to hold the government to account.

Based on the true story of the leaked Pentagon Papers scandal in the early 1970s, Hanks plays Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, a dyed-in-the-wool, old school newsman through and through. The paper has recently been inherited by Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) following the death of her husband, who is at first cautious and lacks confidence in her new role. Kay and Ben are subsequently put to the ultimate test of integrity when the Pentagon Papers (which expose how several US governments knew the war in Vietnam was unwinnable, but did nothing to stop it) are acquired by the Post. The question of whether or not they should defy a court order and publish the story, thus risking prison and the collapse of the paper, forms the central drama.

Tom Hanks is very good, his performance by all accounts a good approximation of the real Bradlee's posture and mannerisms. The rest of the cast, which includes the always excellent Bruce Greenwood as Robert McNamara, add fine support. However it is Meryl Streep who really impresses. Working from Liz Hannah and Josh Singer's first-rate screenplay, the arc of Streep's character is particularly satisfying. Kay Graham is a woman who gradually finds her voice in what was then a man's world, culminating in a brave and heroic stance against a bullying government that wanted to suppress the truth.

It goes without saying that as a director Spielberg is in complete control. With tremendous attention to period detail, the cigarette infused, ink under the fingernails atmosphere of the old Washington Post newsroom crackles with energy, as the riveting drama gradually unfolds. Spielberg's regular collaborators are also present and correct, with editor Michael Kahn, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, production designer Rick Carter and composer John Williams all making their usual invaluable contributions.

In an era of "fake news" and renewed hostility between the White House and the Press, The Post could hardly be a timelier film. It doesn't insult the intelligence of the audience, so doesn't feel preachy, but by the end I was left in no doubt about why Spielberg chose to make this film so quickly, interrupting the post-production on his upcoming science fiction film Ready Player One in order to do so. History has an alarming habit of repeating itself, and Trump, like Nixon, must accept that however hostile it might be, a free press is essential to democracy.

To summarise, The Post is a worthy addition to the canon of great newspaper movies (of which All the President's Men is probably still the greatest), and comes highly recommended. CR

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