The Post may be a docudrama, but it plays as a thriller and an astonishingly insightful portrait of Katharine Graham by Meryl Streep. It’s one of the best movies of the year – and one of the most important.
Essentially, this movie is about a corporate decision, but master storyteller Steven Spielberg sets it up as a tick-tock, high stakes thriller. Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham (Streep) must decide whether to publish the Pentagon Papers at a moment when her company is most vulnerable to market forces and government intimidation. Nothing less than the American principle of freedom of the press hangs in the balance.
The Post also delivers the personal and feminist transformation of Katharine Graham, learning to move beyond her Mad Men Era roles as wife/mother/socialite andto , for the first time, assume real, not titular, command of a business empire. And she goes All In on the ballsiest gamble any CEO could make. To say that Streep brings Graham to life is inadequate. Streep IS Graham. It sometimes seems like Streep can get an Oscar nomination without even making a movie, but this performance is one of Streep’s very best.
Spielberg surrounds Streep with a dazzling cast. Tom Hanks lowers the pitch of his voice and becomes the swashbuckling editor Ben Bradlee. Tracy Letts gives us another fine performance, this time as Graham’s financial guru Fritz Beebe. As Bradlee’s second wife Tony, Sarah Paulson ignites a monologue with her piercing eyes.
Bruce Greenwood is quite brilliant as Robert McNamara, Graham’s old friend and the architect (and unwilling sta) of the Pentagon Papers. Greenwood is such an overlooked actor, and he’s so reliably good (he was even good in Wild Orchid, for Chrissakes).
The Pentagon Papers was the 7,000-page secret official history of the American involvement in the Vietnam War. Commissioned by then Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, the Pentagon Papers chronicled the years of bad decisions by the Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson administrations and, especially, the deceitfulness of JFK’s and LBJ’s public optimism about the War. The truth was that the US government knew that the war was unwinnable and that it was only prolonged because nobody knew how to get out while saving face. The US President in 1971, Richard Nixon, was following the same course, unnecessarily wasting the lives of another 20,000 Americans during his term of office; the ruthless Nixon and his henchman Henry Kissinger were desperate to keep the Pentagon Papers secret. A private sector defense expert, Daniel Ellsberg, had access to the Pentagon Papers and sought to have them published, and The Post tells this story, which takes the audience from a jungle firefight into the courtroom of the US Supreme Court.
Baby Boomers will appreciate being transported back to quaint 1971 technology: typewriters, one-page-at-a-time Xerox machines, rotary pay phones, real typeset and ink presses. (And cigarette smoking in restaurants and cigars in the workplace.)
I’ve also written an essay on some of the historical figures and events depicted in The Post: historical musings on THE POST.
The Post is worth seeing for Streep’s performance, for the history (incredibly important at this moment in the nation’s history) and for the sheer entertainment value. One of the year’s best.