Directed by Stephen Spielberg
Starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks
A month ago, Newsweek magazine dubbed “Fake News” as its “Word of the Year” (2017), and in this age of Donald Trump we have sailed into Orwellian waters deeper and wider than ever before? Or are they?
The Post, a feature film currently showing all over the St. Louis area, takes us back 47 years to the height – perhaps depth is a better word – of the Richard Nixon presidency, demonstrating that we have been here before. As someone who remembers the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, I can attest to the historical and cultural accuracy of the sets, as well as the ambiance of the dialogue and the attitudes they convey.
The Post chronicles several days in June, 1971 when the Nixon Administration enacted a gag order against the New York Times and attempted to shred the First Amendment as it pertains to a free press. Fake News indeed! The issue at stake was publication of selected details from the Pentagon Papers – think of this a kind of precursor to the much more recent Wikileaks. These 4000 pages of documents from 1950 – 1967 were smuggled out by a top military analyst named Daniel Ellsberg, who risked everything to educate the public that five U. S. presidents had blatantly and terribly lied to the American people concerning the United States involvement in Vietnam. As Ellsberg’s character (portrayed by Matthew Rhys) points out in a moment of hand-wringing, had he (Ellsberg) leaked this material in 1964, the worst part of the war would probably never have been fought, and we would count our casualties in the hundreds, rather than the nearly 60,000 dead (and hundreds of thousands heinously wounded or terribly scarred). Richard Nixon was one of the five presidents who lied, so he was hell-bent to suppress the truth at any cost.
The drama concerns the efforts of the smaller and more meager Washington Post to pick up the slack and, indeed, to steal the scoop. Meryl Streep stars as Katherine Graham, the wife of the deceased owner of the newspaper who suddenly is thrust into the role as owner and chief of controlling interest. Streep’s character is faced with one of the most harrowing and agonizing decisions anyone might have to make, and as a woman coming out of her femininity and into her new role, this character resonates strongly with our current “ME TOO” movement, when women are finding their voices and struggling to speak truth to power. For someone (yours truly) raised on All the President’s Men, it’s hard to imagine the Post’s managing editor as anyone less than Jason Robards – but Tom Hanks is hardly a hack, and thus he holds his own.
The renowned director, Steven Spielberg, has explained publically that he purposely sped up production of this film so it could be released at this precise historical moment. As with The Color Purple and so many other of his films, Spielberg’s hand – his detectable presence in the film itself – is noticeable and ideological. . .and yet the high quality of the production and the righteousness of the message make up for the intrusions and carry the film to a satisfying conclusion.
I highly recommend The Post as one of the better films of the 2017 – 2018 era. For those unaware of the Pentagon Papers or at all blurry on the Vietnam / Nixon era, this is a must see!
written by: Dr. Rick Hock, HSSU, English professor