Two years after his latest feature film Bridge of Spies was released, Steven Spielberg continues his description of American history with The Post: an ode to journalism and the freedom of the press in which he focuses on a little-known affair that made headlines in 1971 and indirectly allowed newspapers to reveal the Watergate scandal. Here is our review of a highly political movie which has a peculiar resonance at a moment when Donald Trump is accusing a great part of American media of lying.
Even though his name will forever remain associated with some of the most famous science fiction stories, Steven Spielberg seems to have turned to historical films lately. After Lincoln that deals with the life of the American president who abolished slavery and Bridge of Spies that plunges us in the heart of the Cold War; in The Post, which was released in France on the 24th of January, the filmmaker tells us a story that was often forgotten but which constitutes a crucial landmark for the press in the USA.
In 1971, as the American army has been stuck in the Vietnam War for more than fifteen years, Daniel Ellsberg, a military analyst played here by Matthew Rhys, decides to expose a secret report which shows that, contrary to what the government affirms, the troops are held at bay on the battlefield and that the successive presidents chose to continue fighting despite the formidable losses only to avoid the humiliation of a defeat. So, he sends the document to the press. In the movie, we follow the staff of the Washington Post, which was a simple local newspaper at the time, during this difficult period. Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep), the publication manager, has to deal with the concerns of the Executive Board that wants to remain on good terms with the White House and with the pressure put on her by Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), the editor-in-chief, who insists on revealing the truth since, as he repeats several times, the best way to defend the freedom to publish is to publish.
Even if he relates events that took place more than forty years ago, Steven Spielberg delivers an essential message which matches the spirit of the times. Whereas, since he became president, Donald Trump accuses the media that try and investigate about him to be spreading “fake news” and seems to be trying to silence them; the director vehemently stands up for journalists and whistleblowers, whom he depicts as the real defenders of democracy against an authoritarian power incarnated by President Nixon (played by Curzon Dobell), who only appears with his back to the camera, through the window of the White House, yelling orders on the phone.
Nevertheless, though it is idealistic, this portrayal remains nuanced. The filmmaker describes the internal struggles between the members of the staff of the newspaper when they have to choose between economic interests and freedom to inform. He also highlights the ego of the editor-in-chief who wants to bring a national focus on the Washington Post in order to be able to compete with the great New York Times.
Furthermore, in a time marked by the #Time’sup and #Metoo campaigns, The Post can, to a certain extent, be considered as a feminist movie. We follow the evolution of the character of Katherine Graham for which Meryl Streep was nominated to the Oscars for the twenty-first time (a record). Propelled to the head of the newspaper after the death of her husband, she hesitates a lot at the beginning of the movie and she seems to believe that she does not belong but, little by little, she finally becomes more self-confident and manages to show the others that she is the boss.
Thus, like the unforgettable All the President’s Men directed by Alan J. Pakula, The Post promises to transcend epochs and become a classic. Don’t miss it!
The Post, Steven Spielberg, USA, 2018, 1h55, released in the United States of America on the 12th of January 2018, in Lebanon on the 18th of January 2018, in the United Kingdom on the 19th of January 2018 and in France on the 24th of January 2018.