It’s a weird time. Throughout last year we’ve watched as truth has become a devalued commodity. Words have little meaning in a time where people in positions of power seem increasingly comfortable telling bald-faced lies to the public. There’s a baffling fearlessness to elected officials who look us square in the eye and tell us things we know to be patently false. The very concept of what is and what isn’t a fact can be debated endlessly by people more concerned with being on the winning side rather than the side of righteousness.
There was a time when the political establishment feared truth. The mishandling of the Vietnam War and duplicitous actions of the Nixon administration feel almost quaint compared to the circus sideshow with which we’re currently dealing. However, it’s important to remember media always have been under scrutiny of the powers that be. Wars have been waged against the press before and will be again—by governments, foreign powers and those seeking to shake the foundation of institutions that keep our nation free.
Damn. That was some hokey, patriotic piffle. But it’s the kind of feeling I have after seeing Steven Spielberg’s latest ode to America, “The Post.” The film does a fantastic job of encapsulating a very large and complex story into a very palatable parable. The Vietnam War was an epic quagmire that eluded multiple administrations. The government wanted citizens to believe the proxy war was vital in our ongoing ideological battle with the Soviet Union and “Red Menace” of communism. When a secret government report on the failures of this war are discovered, the editor and reporters of The Washington Post enter into a debate with the owner (Meryl Streep) and her advisors on whether they should run the story.
Kay Graham (Streep) owns The Post after inheriting the paper from her father. She’s a female CEO in a time when a woman in charge made men really nervous. What if she made an important decision while she was on her period? Or decided to change the newspaper into a publication about shoes and doilies? Kay finds herself in a difficult position when she learns her executive editor, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), wants to run the story and risk the wrath of the U.S. government. Kay has to try to balance the needs of her business and stay true to what the free press represents.
The cast is top notch. Tom Hanks is still the most likable leading man in Hollywood and is fantastic as the grizzled editor during a particularly trying time. Meryl Streep is excellent in her role, too, and strikes a perfect balance of strength and vulnerability. The supporting cast is filled with great character actors like Bob Odenkirk, Bruce Greenwood and Jesse Plemons.
But the film isn’t without flaws. It is Spielberg working at his most ham-fisted—like a man with two fists crafted from the finest Boar’s Head pork products. There’s no one better at creating emotional responses on film than Spielberg. But sometimes he lays it on so thick even his powers of manipulation can feel false. There are so many sticky-sweet moments laid on thicker than a hot wax application for an Armenian Sasquatch and moments reminiscent of “Lincoln,” another ode to American greatness. There were bits of inherent drama pushed just one beat too far that pulls audiences from the moment as they try not to roll their eyes in a bout of cringe-laced shame.
Still, I liked “The Post” a lot. The subject matter is timely, the acting is top-notch, and Spielberg is a master of selling moments. Maybe I’m too hard on “The Beard” for the emotional oversell. Based on the current state of our country, perhaps there are those who need it very clearly explained that a government trying to shut down freedom of the press is one that needs challenging.
“The Post” is an enjoyable rumination on the value of a free press and mandate of our society to maintain its safety.