PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

‘The Post’ Is an Exhilarating Love Letter to Journalistic Integrity

J.R. Kinnard

Spielberg's inspired rabblerousing may be preaching to the choir, but it's a damn good sermon.

One could argue that Steven Spielberg has now made three movies about dinosaurs. The iconic Jurassic Park and its less-than-stellar sequel, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, saw extinct beasts recklessly brought back to life against all logic and good judgement. If only we could find some DNA fragments to resurrect the now-extinct newspaper industry so breathlessly captured in Spielberg's new ensemble drama, The Post.

The Post

Steven Spielberg

(Twentieth Century Fox)

Cast: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson

22 Dec 17 (US / limited)

19 Jan 17 (UK)

Spielberg's exhilarating love letter to journalistic integrity can be forgiven its self-congratulatory excesses. Led by their tireless executive editor, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), the reporters at The Washington Post broke the biggest stories at a pivotal moment in America's history. They fueled a post-Vietnam cynicism of authority that still prevails today. Ironically, with most daily publications largely owned and operated by business conglomerates, newspapers must now be regarded through the same cynical eye.

The Post arrives at the beginning of the end for family-run newspapers. It's 1971 and the matriarch of The Washington Post, Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), whose father nursed the newspaper back from bankruptcy in the '30s, is taking her "cash poor" legacy public on the New York Stock Exchange. Contentious board members debate share prices and dictate editorial content while Kay sits helplessly to the side, occasionally breaking for a dinner party or photo opportunity. The fact Kay's father ceded control of the paper to his son-in-law rather than his own daughter isn't lost on her judgmental colleagues, who view her as a non-entity in their boys-only club.

Meryl Streep in The Post (2017) (IMDB)

Meanwhile on Capital Hill, excerpts from a damning "scholarly study" commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) are leaking from the Pentagon to The New York Times. Not only do the so called 'Pentagon Papers' depict the reality of an unwinnable war in Vietnam, they expose nearly 30 years of American meddling in Southeast Asian affairs dating back to the Truman Administration. A vindictive Nixon goes on the assault, slapping an injunction on The New York Times and threatening litigation against any newspaper foolish enough to publish snippets of the inflammatory report.

The political and economic ramifications of publishing the Pentagon Papers dictate most of the action in The Post. This is Spielberg at his wonky best, as he delights in the minutia of backroom subterfuge and editorial wrangling. There's the obvious political subtext that resonates in modern day Trump World, where the Press is routinely demonized for asking questions and highlighting inconsistencies. Where The Post really excels, however, is in its consideration of shifting gender roles in the workplace. More specifically, Kay Graham's evolving self-identity from follower into leader.

Historically, Spielberg has struggled with female characters, many of whom break into hysterics at the slightest hint of calamity. His touch with Kay Graham, thankfully, is both deft and delicate. What the law empowers and what the spirit allows are often misaligned. Spielberg and his screenwriters take us through the process of a willingly subjugated woman -- a woman who feels unworthy to stay in the room when 'the men' start discussing politics -- embracing her identity as a formidable human being with a vital viewpoint. The Post also contains a crackerjack scene that eloquently deconstructs male privilege, when Bradlee's wife (Sarah Paulson) gently schools her husband on the debilitating consequences of being treated like a second class citizen.

Spielberg's camera, thanks to the reliably splendid work of cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, weaves through the newsroom like a reporter on the prowl. Particularly frantic scenes play out through handheld cameras and jittery close-ups. The urgency of movement and rapid fire dialogue convey the excitement of a time when the written word was king and cigarettes were considered a food group.

The Post also boasts one of the best ensemble casts of 2017. The supporting cast is dotted with familiar faces, all of whom do a wonderful job when it finally comes their turn to shine. Tracy Letts is particularly good as Kay's conflicted confidante, and Matthew Rhys strikes a delicate balance between ego and idealism as the Pentagon Paper leaker. It's a sublime joy to see the comedy team of Bob Odenkirk (as 'Ben Bagdikian') and David Cross (as 'Howard Simons') together again, this time in a dramatic setting.

But all acting conversations, particularly as we approach awards season, will predictably center on Hanks and Streep. Though they only share a few scenes, watching Hanks and Streep perform is like watching two jazz musicians improvising together; overlapping chatter giving way to strategic silence with only the slightest of nonverbal cues. It's a delight to watch these two generational talents disappear completely in the service of this huge story.

Ironically, conveying the enormity of that story eventually bogs down The Post in its final act. What started as a rapidly evolving story of shifting allegiances and breakneck pacing becomes an exercise in reiteration. The action largely stops and Spielberg settles for repeated reminders about the consequences of Kay's decision to publish the excerpts. This effort to further escalate the stakes is completely unwarranted and feels condescending. The story is adequately dramatic without the constant verbal reminders and John Williams's overpowering score, thank you very much.

Still, Spielberg builds a connection with this material that will surely resonate with its intended audience. It's nothing short of a 'call to arms' for those feeling disenfranchised by recent political and social upheaval; a rousing tribute to average citizens who stood up to an oppressive bully and changed the course of history. The Post may be preaching to the choir, but it's a damn good sermon.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.


Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.


Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.


MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of September 2020

Oceans of Slumber thrive with their progressive doom, grind legends Napalm Death make an explosive return, and Anna von Hausswolff's ambient record are just some of September's highlights.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.