“The Post”: When Freedom Of Speech Meant Something Else

Considering the state of American politics and journalism as a whole, Steven Spielberg’s film could not be more pertinent. Perhaps for him The Post represents a nostalgic look back to when freedom of speech meant something else.

The Post falls somewhere between Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight and Alan J. Pakula’s All The President’s Men. Focusing on a time period prior to Nixon’s Watergate it zeroes in on The Pentagon Papers. These classified documents demonstrated collusion across numerous presidents into America’s Vietnam involvement. Divisive, relevant and anchored by solid performances from Oscar winners Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, Steven Spielberg makes no secret of his intentions from the outset.

Through the use of detailed production design, multiple film stocks and newsreel footage, he evokes time period and lays out his stall quickly. Employing broad strokes to establish the competitive edge between The New York Times and Washington Post, Spielberg harks back to a time when information was not so readily available. Surrounding Hanks and Streep with a solid supporting cast including Bruce Greenwood, Bob Odenkirk and Jesse Plemons also adds gravitas and a sense of realism. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski meanwhile pays homage in his use of classical framing and a seventies colour palette, recalling genre classics like Three Days of the Condor and Klute.

 

Where The Post falls down however is in its ability to fully exploit the potential of government threat. Telephone conversations glimpsed through White House windows may hark back to All The President’s Men but never feel truly ominous. Spielberg instead gets more mileage from the arc of Kay Graham sketched with supreme skill by Streep. Trapped within a male dominated industry, Streep communicates her unease, perceived gender weakness and cultural isolation with subtlety. It is her journey and the turning of a tide in both gender politics, newspaper journalism and governance practices which defines this film.

Hanks meanwhile gives us a hard boiled newspaper man driven by idealism, cynical of authority and ensconced within an outdated ethos. This performance is no homage, pastiche or vague impression of Jason Robards. This is Hanks bringing his inherent everyman quality imbuing Bradlee with softer edges despite the bluster. His scenes with Streep are masterclasses in overlapping dialogue, character chemistry and ensemble acting. A self-assurance which encompasses every cast member on screen.

 

Considering the state of American politics and journalism as a whole, Spielberg’s film could not be more pertinent. Fake news and its proliferation combined with a twenty-four-hour culture means goalposts have been moved. Disinformation is part of a wider world where president’s engage in social media rants, politicians are under public scrutiny every second, and nothing is sacred. Spielberg more than any other director has adapted to changing times. Perhaps for him The Post represents a nostalgic look back to when freedom of speech meant something else. Instead of our current culture where people brandishing cameraphones film with impunity, pass judgement without consequence and manipulate information.