The Post is just the crowdpleaser you'd expect from Spielberg, Hanks, and Streep

By Leigh Monson
   There was almost no chance that The Post wasn't going to be good. Get Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, and Meryl Streep in a room together and they'd probably turn your eight-year-old's school play into a work of highly digestible cinematic art; these folks are old pros who are so good at their respective jobs that they make whatever they set their minds to look easy through pure muscle memory.
   However, The Post succeeds not just as a piece of narrative storytelling but as a monument of present allegory for the necessity of a free press. It would normally be somewhat gauche to consider a film's merit as intrinsically tied to the time in which it was made, but considering The Post's abnormally quick production cycle it is safe to assume that Spielberg and company were specifically trying to make a point about the here and now by looking to the triumphs of the past, and the result is a crowd-pleaser that is timeless but pointedly relevant to present journalistic crises.
   In 1971, The Washington Post was faced with a tough decision. After a drawn-out competition between The New York Times and The Post to get documents that revealed a multi-administration conspiracy to prolong the Viet Nam War, the U.S. government came down hard on the two newspapers, placing an injunction on The Times and threatening charges of collusion against any other paper should they publish information from the same source. With this information in hand, it fell to the editorial will of Ben Bradlee (Hanks) and the commitment of The Post's owner Kay Graham (Streep) to make a stand for the press's First Amendment right to publish.
   In form, this is a small-scale affair, primarily composed of conversations set against a ticking clock counting down to the publication deadline. Hanks's Bradlee plays the role of the steadfast journalist who is unwavering in his duty in spite of the consequences, while Streep's Graham is a woman out of her depth in a position of power inherited from her deceased husband, discovering that journalistic integrity may put her at odds with some of her more powerful and affluent friends within the government.
 This is a film about the conflicting duties of a newspaper as a bastion of constitutional liberty and as a capitalistic business, and it frames that narrative through Graham's struggle to realize her own power in spite of the cowardly men who seek to control the company by proxy. Spielberg has the uncanny ability to communicate this arc through something as simple as camera placement, showing Streep through overhead angles as men talk down to her until she finally rises to meet them and ultimately surpasses them as our perspective shifts down to look up at her.
   It's hard to express much more specific sentiment without entirely dissecting The Post in its cinematic techniques. This is a blunt, straightforward rallying cry for the power and importance of the free press, and it's specifically designed to push buttons in a time when the American press is more threatened than ever.
   The film isn't without its hamfisted or hokey moments, but they are so genuinely delivered that they are immediately forgivable, especially when you consider that many of those techniques feel played out only because Spielberg was a founder of a cinematic language that emulators have beat to death over the course of decades. The Post isn't cinematically revolutionary, but leans hard for the political necessity of revolution in the face of tyrannical governmental ego.
4/5 stars

Leigh Monson is technically a licensed attorney but somehow thinks being a film critic is a lot more fun. Leigh loves both award darlings and hilariously bad films, does not believe in superhero movie fatigue, and calls it like he sees it.