Freedom of press vs. secure government. Which one of these matters to you most? In The Post, Steven Spielberg and company challenge the present day audience with this question that once haunted our past. It’s a question which I think some are not willing to answer but the message from this period of time is an important one. Sometimes for better or worse, the media is a good thing. The Post is a friendly reminder of a time the media had to keep our government in check, even if the leadership disagreed with the stories being published.
The Post revolves around the hungry publishers and writers at The Washington Post, who are dealing with a dynamic change in leadership. After a tragic event, the company acquires Katherine Graham – its first female publisher of any major newspaper, and the change creates a flimsy environment among stockholders. Katherine – played by the amazing Meryl Streep – has many challenges the second she walks into the role: She has to convince investors the company is safe; gain the respect of her colleagues, including Ben Bradlee – played by Tom Hanks; and deal with a major editorial decision of whether or not to publish a series of classified documents which expose decades of lies told by four different Presidents.
The story Spielberg is telling here might be a simple one, but what makes every moment feel so tense is the impact of every choice a character makes. On the surface, it seems like a movie about a series of “yes or no” answers, but those simple answers have major consequences, thus driving up the tension. Do we pursue the story? Do we keep going? Do we publish? These all seem like simple narrative jumps … but at what cost? Each question, each answer haunts us with its impact.
This also might be the best film about female empowerment we have seen from Spielberg in a long time. Come to think of it, Spielberg rarely makes movies with female leads, so this is monumental. In an age where Hollywood is being devoured by the #MeToo movement, here is a story about a woman having to make risky choices among a male-driven community. Katherine Graham had to prove herself as a force to be reckoned with, not only with her peers but with those who want to destroy her company politically.
The beautiful part of it all is The Post reminds us of a moment in time where news outlets worked together to seek the truth. It wasn’t about Fox News vs. CNN or which outlet can outmatch the other politically. The media teamed up and made a difference when we needed it most. This might be the most important movie in our current divisive climate.
On the technical side of things, this movie looks and feels very much like a Spielberg film. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski continues his longtime collaboration with Spielberg giving this movie the trademark glow in his films. There are several sequences that made me think of other films like Munich, and War Horse.
The film is composed by John Williams but unlike previous efforts, his music remains very subdued for most of the runtime. In The Post, character moments are emphasized around silent scenes that make the quiet more dreadful when characters are forced to make a choice. The music is only utilized after big revelations and story progressions.
The only possible downside to The Post is the movie itself is very much preaching to the present day audience. How that message holds up for a shelf life? Well, only time will tell. Don’t get me wrong, this is a very important film, especially with politicians today screaming “Fake News.” We need this movie because people forget the benefit of having a free press regardless of how much we disagree with their coverage. That said, I’m not sure if the movie will feel as timeless as Spotlight or All the President’s Men.
Having said that, The Post is a movie made for our time and is begging to be seen. I’m sure some viewers will watch this and feel it challenging their political perspectives on the mainstream media, but the points are absolutely valid. As one character states in the movie, “The Press is to serve the governed, not the governors.” The Post is the best justification of why having a freedom of press matters, and it’s a hard point to argue with.