Empire (Australasia) - - On Screen - JONATHAN PILE


DI­REC­TOR Steven Spiel­berg

CAST Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Bob Odenkirk, Bradley Whit­ford, Bruce Green­wood, Sarah Paul­son

PLOT When a clas­si­fied gov­ern­ment study about the Viet­nam war is leaked to the press, Wash­ing­ton Post owner Kay Graham (Streep) and ed­i­tor Ben Bradlee (Hanks) are keen to pub­lish ex­posés. Stand­ing in their way? Only the US gov­ern­ment.

THE WASH­ING­TON POST and the US gov­ern­ment have pre­vi­ous. Fa­mously. It is, af­ter all, the pa­per that brought down a pres­i­dency — its months-long in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a break-in at the Water­gate Ho­tel forc­ing Nixon into a no-win ‘re­sign or be im­peached’ quandary. (He re­signed.) But that’s not the only runin it’s had — be­fore Water­gate, there were the ‘Pen­tagon Pa­pers’.

First, the his­tory les­son: com­mis­sioned by JFK and LBJ’S Sec­re­tary Of De­fense Robert Mcna­mara, the Pa­pers were a 7,000-page re­port on the United States’ in­volve­ment in Viet­nam be­tween 1945 and 1967. The ba­sic find­ing be­ing the gov­ern­ment knew they couldn’t win, but kept send­ing troops rather than ad­mit de­feat. With the war claim­ing nearly 60,000 Amer­i­can lives, that rev­e­la­tion was a pretty big deal. And, when the pa­pers got hold of the doc­u­ments, they wanted to pub­lish sto­ries. Nixon’s gov­ern­ment, un­sur­pris­ingly, was less keen.

The Post (reti­tled ‘The Pa­pers’ dur­ing pro­duc­tion, but since re­named back) is the story of The Wash­ing­ton Post’s role in re­port­ing on the leaked study, with par­tic­u­lar em­pha­sis on the roles of owner and pub­lisher Kay Graham (Streep) and ex­ec­u­tive ed­i­tor Ben Bradlee (Hanks). She’s try­ing to se­cure the pa­per’s future by launch­ing on the stock ex­change, so needs to keep the bankers happy. He’s a news guy — he be­lieves it’s his duty to pub­lish, even if it means jail time.

The back and forth be­tween th­ese two act­ing heavy­weights, and the sub­tleties of their dif­fer­ing stances as they wres­tle with the mag­ni­tude of their de­ci­sion, is where the film comes alive. It’s Streep who gets more with which to work. Graham was the United States’ first fe­male news­pa­per pub­lisher, a job she hadn’t asked for, but one she was landed with af­ter her hus­band’s death left her in charge of the fam­ily business. And she’s of­ten lost in a male-dom­i­nated world that gives her lit­tle re­spect: spo­ken over in meet­ings, bul­lied by those around her, but try­ing to do the right thing — by the pa­per, the Amer­i­can pub­lic, and by her friends. One of whom hap­pens to be one of the men in the fir­ing line —

Robert Mcna­mara (Green­wood). It’s just she’s not clear ex­actly what the right thing to do is. What good is pub­lish­ing if the pa­per loses fund­ing and goes un­der? Will the story put Amer­i­can troops in dan­ger? But what about hold­ing the gov­ern­ment

ac­count­able for its de­ceit?

We have been here be­fore, of course. In many ways — not least ac­tu­ally in the Post’s news­room for All The Pres­i­dent’s Men (Bradlee then played by Jason Ro­bards). And so much of it plays out as you’d ex­pect — with news con­fer­ences, phone calls to sources and sud­den breaks in the story that come at just the right mo­ment to pro­pel the plot for­ward. It’s in com­par­i­son with sim­i­lar films that

The Post suf­fers. It has a de­cent story, Hanks and Streep are two com­pelling leads, and Spiel­berg is laugh­ably over-qual­i­fied to di­rect it, but it’s nei­ther as thrilling as All The Pres­i­dent’s Men, nor does it have the emo­tional heft of Spot­light. But there’s no shame com­ing sec­ond best to those two ti­tans of the genre. On its own con­sid­er­able mer­its, The Post is first class.

VER­DICT Set nearly half a cen­tury ago, but re­mark­ably pre­scient in th­ese “fake news” times, The Post is an en­gag­ing and mas­ter­fully acted tale sure to be in the run­ning come the Os­cars.

“But, I am hold­ing the front page...”

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