Press to get real news

by Martin McNamara
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THE Post (Cert 12A, 115 mins) director Stephen Spielberg’s timely defence of the free press, stars Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham – the first female publisher of an American newspaper.
Helming The Washington Post alongside editor Ben Bradlee (played by serial Spielberg collaborator Tom Hanks), Graham aids in exposing decades of American government lies concerning the Vietnam War.
In the process, she puts her reputation on the line, risks her career and those of her employees, and gambles with the life of the paper itself – all worthy bets when freedom of the press and the truth itself is concerned, posit Spielberg and Co.
Indeed, the inhabitants of this world eat, sleep and breath journalistic integrity and the almighty truth – “the right to publish”.
The only way to protect that very right, we’re told by Bradlee, is “to publish”. Consequently, for all the grey areas in politics, this is fundamentally a world of black and white, much like the newspapers on which it thrives.
Centred on the government’s attempted cover up of The Pentagon Papers in 1971, The Post’s conspiracy-driven overtones evoke the work of Alan J Pakula – in particular, 1976’s All the President’s Men – an association that will be lost on few cinema-lovers regardless of the narrative.
Aesthetically, The Post is all slow-zooms, naturalistic lighting and sudden cuts, bringing to mind the best of paranoid 1970s cinema, and even some of Spielberg’s own work from the decade – visually, along with its slow, deliberate pace, this is a far more nostalgic film for the director than any of his late-career throwbacks.
Deftly choreographed long-takes and tracking shots bring us through frantic newsrooms where incessant typewriters click away like drums in a march to war, and the office space is so choked with the smoke of anxiously sucked-down cigarettes, you can all but smell the tobacco from the comfort of your cinema seat.
The office of The Washington Post is not just the war room, it’s the war zone itself – a world away from the Vietnam battlefield in which proceedings begin, but thematically and aesthetically connected.
A peppering of stock footage adds an element of pseudo-realism to a story about truth in journalism, politics and everywhere in-between.
While Hanks is in typically magnetic form here, leading the journalistic procedural element of the narrative and pulling us into all its sinister intrigue, it’s Streep that, unsurprisingly, carries The Post’s dramatic weight.
It’s from Graham that all narrative tension evolves; a woman leading a newspaper in a world where politics is a men’s table subject and women remove themselves to discuss the style section in the sitting room.
It’s great to see long-time collaborates Bob Odenkirk and David Cross acting alongside each other in a major dramatic film, and Sarah Paulson, although regrettably underused, turns in a great performance as Bradlee’s wife, Tony.
Bruce Greenwood is a dead ringer for Robert McNamara, whose sanctioned study instigated all this controversy.
This story about the free press and its essential role in democracy is well told, timely and deeply necessary.
Spielberg’s sinister positioning of Nixon through the window of the Oval Office in a number of scenes has dark ties to its current inhabitant.
However, affairs are a little too neatly tied up here to inspire any further investigation – we rarely have to work at following The Post, and for it to provoke any radical consideration of the subject, a little more nuance may have been necessary.
Still, while it may not garner Spielberg any major awards this season, The Post provides a nail-biting political thriller with much to say from a master showing little sign of slowing down.
Verdict: 8/10

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