The Post

The Post ★★★

Two lines—one comic, the other serious—get to the crux of the matter. Hanks, as Post editor Ben Bradlee, says both. To a journalist who reckons he can write an article in a few days’ time (as opposed to, like, right away): “Well what if we pretend you’re a journalist and not a novelist?” And to Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), the newspaper’s owner: “It’s over”— referring to an era of nicey-nicey career-dependent complicity between politicians (scheming, unalterably Bad) and journalists (compromised but unquestionably Good). So the dual thrust in the narrative hinges on speed as a necessity (those super-quick turnarounds upon which all journalism rests) and a moment of moral liberation following a soul-searching process that pits self-interest against the very foundations of social democracy (guess who wins).

As someone who sat through much of Spotlight (an obvious comparator) with a lump in his throat, I must say I’m easily moved by these kinds of narratives. Hard not to be stirred by a scene in which Streep goes against advice in the name of Truth; I recall those great scenes in The Wire of coppers standing up for what's right rather than what's easy.

Spielberg’s approach is emotive rather than forensic: there’s an undeniably persuasive sweep to this, but for all its cross-cutting the film gradually de-emphasises process in favour of… well, what exactly? Characters? Emotions? It’s hard to say; but I feel as if I was swept along by the premise of the film more than by the details of the actual journalism. That’s maybe because the mechanics are necessarily thin: the concept here is not so much how a story gets investigated and published as it is what the editorial decision is when an immediately publishable story lands neatly and handily on a desk in your newsroom.

No surprises, then, that the most dramatic sequence here is that in which the two narrative thrusts come together most acutely, with Bradlee and trusted colleagues typing up stories not knowing whether or not they’re going to get published—with quiet show-stealer Jesse Plemons as the lawyer figuring out the legality of it all.

Hanks reliably solid, Streep excellent. But why does the film open in 1966 with a song from 1969? And what was Spielberg thinking with those LOL-bad shots of Nixon on the phone?