As America endures the ‘fake news’ era of the Trump administration, legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg casts his directorial eye over the government’s corrupt past with political drama The Post. Centered around attempts to publish incriminating Vietnam War secrets, the plot follows the struggle of a newspaper heiress trying to keep her business afloat. Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) runs The Washington Post with loyal editor in chief Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) by her side. When journalist Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) tracks a source that leads him to the Pentagon Papers, a moral battle between the press and the government ensues.
Over the years we’ve come to expect the expected from Spielberg movies and though it does feel as though he’s ticking boxes in the way that his films come across visually and audibly, he delivers the goods on this occasion. The screenplay comes from Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, and the latter’s experience working on the likes of Spotlight and The West Wing bleeds into the style of the script. Furthermore, there’s an occasional Sorkin-esque edge during the newsroom scenes, as the camera hurriedly follows Bradlee around while he barks orders and instructions to his staff with an arrogant confidence. Spielberg’ heavy-handedness does weigh in towards the final act as John Williams’ sentimental score goes into overdrive, but with a compelling story at its core, it is engaging and rousing throughout.
Pulling together Streep and Hanks for a true story about American politics appears to be a winning formula, but neither of the veteran actors are complacent enough to rest on their laurels. With Streep’s Graham isolated in a toxic male-dominated industry, and Hanks portraying a man very much representative of this time, they both do well in the challenging performances. While they are reliably solid in their respective roles, there’s an array of strong supporting turns as well. In what might be his highest profile appearance to date. Better Call Saul’s Odenkirk is fantastic as Bagdikian, injecting comic relief into the narrative as a steely journo who doesn’t mind playing dirty to get the exclusive.
When it comes to films of this ilk, Spielberg is a safe pair of hands. He generates drama and excitement in his storytelling, and at the same time highlights the stark parallels between Nixon’s reign and modern America, albeit with all the subtlety of a Donald Trump tweet. While great risks are taken by the characters within the plot, there is little risk in the execution of this piece. The Post might be quite ordinary and familiar, but it is undoubtedly a timely retelling of an extraordinary story.