Steven Spielberg’s The Post is so well made and so strongly echoes the present-day struggles of the citizenry and press under a tyrannical presidential administration that, for many viewers, it’s going to be the most important and meaningful film of 2017.
Courtesy of screenwriters Liz Hannah and Josh Singer (Spotlight), the thrilling journalistic drama is also one of the past 12 months’ most efficiently told and entertaining works, one in which the entire cast and crew appears wholly committed to drawing the historical connections through the wonders of cinema.
And what a cast it is! While Jason Robards may have set the standard for portraying Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee in All the President’s Men, from the start it’s easy to accept Tom Hanks’ more huggable but still brusk interpretation.
Matching Hanks is his American cinematic royalty female counterpart Meryl Streep as Kay Graham, whom we find struggling to be respected as the paper’s leader in the wake of her husband’s surprise death and doing her best to appear confident while taking the Post public as a traded company.
Into the somewhat testy duo’s dynamic comes a Who’s Who of top modern television talent, beginning with Matthew Rhys (The Americans) as Daniel Ellsberg, who gradually sneaks out the Pentagon Papers and gets its coverup of the U.S.’ true activity in Vietnam to the New York Times.
But when the Nixon White House sues the Times over putting soldiers’ lives at risk for publishing confidential information, Ben sees a grand opportunity to honor the First Amendment and rousingly rallies his reporters, including Meg Greenfield (Carrie Coon, Fargo; The Leftovers), Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul) and Howard Simons (David Cross, Arrested Development), to the cause.
Not to merely name more names, but when The Post’s recognizable faces keep coming and play their interconnected parts so well, credit must be given where it’s due.
Likewise making the most of shared screen time are fellow TV all-stars Alison Brie (Mad Men; Community) as Kay’s unflinchingly supportive daughter Lally, Jesse Plemons (Fargo: Breaking Bad) and Zach Woods (Silicon Valley) as the Post’s shellshocked but helpful lawyers Roger Clark and Anthony Essaye and Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story) as Ben’s understanding wife Tony.
If they weren’t enough, there’s also first-rate character actors Tracy Letts and Bradley Whitford as Post board members Fritz Beebe and Arthur Parsons, Michael Stuhlbarg as Times publisher Abe Rosenthal and Bruce Greenwood as Robert McNamara, whose friendship with Kay adds a delicious layer of complication once her paper comes into possession of the crucial documents.
Plenty of star-studded films have been duds, but the unified effort of elite performers under the guidance of someone who knows how to properly direct them as a true ensemble sets The Post apart from these also-rans.
Stitching together a variety of intelligent compositions, peppered with thrilling handheld camerawork that’s been deployed in most Spielberg films since Catch Me If You Can, the maestro thoroughly conveys the power of communication and standing up for what’s right in the face of great risks.
He and his writers also capture the allure of the journalistic process and what it once took to get a story to press, the intricacies of which Spielberg and his production design team recreate with ease, all before two hours have elapsed.
Grade: A. Rated PG-13. Now playing at Biltmore Grande, Carolina Cinemark and Grail Moviehouse
(Photo: Twentieth Century Fox)