The Post movie review: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks-starrer is timely reminder of need for an independent press

Mihir Fadnavis

January 12, 2018 11:32:12 IST

3.5/5

The biggest, most immediate threat to the world right now is quite simply the systematic dismantling of the press. The press is the watchdog of democracy and wannabe fascists and dictators make sure the press is controlled by the state, to make sure citizens only know of real world events that the state wants them to. The timing of Steven Spielberg’s The Post couldn’t be more prescient, with Donald Trump trying his best to discredit the press that holds him accountable for his dozens of crimes.

The Post chronicles the events that led to the revelation of the infamous Pentagon Papers — a secret set of documents that detailed America’s involvement in the Vietnam war as well as the systemic destabilisation it caused to neighbouring nations to enable the war. The papers and the following investigation brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon, who hated the press. It’s easy to understand why Spielberg rushed to put Ready Player One on the backburner and rush to finish this film first.

Still from The Post

Still from The Post

We are told the story through the eyes of Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and Katharine (Meryl Streep) the widow of the WaPo publisher. Bradlee is jealous of the New York Times generally getting all the scoops, so when he gets his hands on the report, it’s a frenzied rush to the finish line to get ahead of the Times and publish the truth. The film blasts off like a rocket once things are set in motion, almost like an Indiana Jones movie starring news reporters, and Spielberg’s flair for emotional wrangling and melodrama somehow work their charm like a well oiled machine. It isn’t as impactful as the top films on journalism like Alan Pakula’s All the President’s Men (which also chronicled the fall of Nixon) and Michael Mann’s The Insider, but it works in a typically Spielbergian and crowd pleasing, and sometimes Hollywood-congratulatory way.

A big draw in the film is the giant cast of recognisable faces playing key characters — literally the who’s who of TV all rendering in their career best film roles. Despite the rushed production, Spielberg makes it seem so fluid and easy to assemble such a big story with a huge cast into a coherent and effective film. The only major negative is the dilemma that the film seems to too dramatically assert — whether or not to publish the papers. Because we as an audience have the benefit of hindsight, it makes no sense for this dilemma to be present considering how awful the crimes in the reports are. This is more so because WaPo at that time was a small, family-owned business with no conflict of interest with any political or corporate entity. If the real life Bradlee and Katharine did face this dilemma, it’s not convincingly portrayed; however, it’s easy to forget because Hanks and Streep deliver such predictably fine performances. Bob Odenkirk gets the most memorable role as Ben Bagdikian who was the point man for receiving the Pentagon Papers and chasing WaPo to publish them.

During times where fascists use fake news to obfuscate the truth and deem real news as fake because it paints them in bad light and proves their wrongdoings, The Post is an important film. It’s a rousing drama that works as a call to arms by the press and a lesson on the necessity of the media to be independent of political and corporate organisations, both of which unfortunately go hand in hand.

It’s especially relevant to us in India where an independent news organisation was just issued a gag order for reporting on corruption by the son of the ruling party’s president, and the government filed a lawsuit against another news organisation for reporting on Aadhaar. But most importantly, it’s a reminder that we need journalists like those in the Washington Post and New York Times who do not function as spineless propaganda outlets for a narcissistic cult of personalities with the keys to the kingdom.

Updated Date: Jan 12, 2018 11:32 AM