Steven Spielberg’s The Post seems specifically engineered to be the most Oscar bait-y of Oscar bait movies. Spielberg is arguably the most prominent director in the film industry, it features two of our biggest movie stars, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, and it deals in the grand themes that Spielberg so loves. Really, what could go wrong?
Thankfully, very little. The Post is an impeccably crafted docudrama, almost a docu-thriller, thanks to Spielberg’s particular genius at ratcheting up tension and manipulating our emotions. The man just knows how to direct a movie.
The Post tells the story of the publishing of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, the secret government documents detailing the hidden history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam from the 1940s through the 1960s. As we see in the movie, the New York Times had already published a small portion of the leaked report, but they were then served an injunction by the courts to stop all publishing of the documents at the urging of the Nixon White House. This left the Washington Post in the position of either risking their own court problems by continuing to publish stories on the Papers, or sitting it out and waiting for the courts to make their decision. Doing that would keep them from what they considered the great public service of making these documents known, as well as the more self-serving act of getting the scoop on the Times and raising the profile of the Post.
Much of the movie focuses on Meryl Streep’s Katharine Graham, the publisher of the Post, as she wrestles with risking her paper’s reputation, as well as the public stock offering they were about to produce, all while navigating what in many ways was entirely an old white man’s world. Streep is just as fantastic as always, as she shows Graham’s internal conflict and her realization of the power she wields as the paper’s publisher.
The Post supposedly has some historical inaccuracies, but I feel it’s Spielberg’s prerogative to play with the truth a little. What’s amazing to me is how much anxiety and excitement he can produce even though we already know how everything will turn out. It takes talent to tell us something we already know, but to make us believe that anything could happen.