The Post
"There's a quietness about it, a new maturity for Spielberg."

Do you trust what you read in the papers? Recent research by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism show that faith in the mainstream media is low, with a third of people across 36 countries feeling that they can't rely on it. Donald Trump has repeatedly attacked US newspapers and described their output as 'fake news'. Amongst his targets has been the Washington Post - a newspaper that may very well not exist today if it hadn't taken on a previous US president and won.

The story of what happened back then has been told before, of course, in All The President's Men, but this film tackles a different stage in developments and has much more in common with 2015's Spotlight. There's a quietness about it, a new maturity for Spielberg, who ditches his usual bag of tricks entirely and reinvents himself from square-framed office block to laburnum-tinted parlour room. Beautifully choreographed scenes carrying us through busy buildings recall David Fincher's work in Zodiac. Shades of lemon yellow associated with the female characters shift into lemonade for a young female entrepreneur; they are met by eggshell blue for the men, the one set of tones gradually intruding into the other over the course of the film.

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Similarly cast against type is Meryl Streep, whose fragility and dithering as the paper's accidental owner, Kay Graham, frequently takes centre stage. Like a self-effacing, genteel Hamlet, Streep's Graham creates drama from indecision because the audience can sense something steely within her, and though it takes its time to become visible, the moment of revelation - of self-recognition - is a potent one.

Through this character, Spielberg addresses issues around class and the traditional structures of power underlying - and perhaps eventually able to undermine - that vaunted US democracy that slides so easily into corruption. He also points up the role of women in a story too often told as if it were all about men, and observes the significance of their use of soft power in an era where they had much more limited access to direct methods either in politics or in publishing. This gives the film a relevant (and not merely indulgent) emotional arc which will help to keep it interesting for viewers who find all the political and legal detail a bit much to keep pace with.

That detail is beautifully realised, however, and will itself delight others. The story is all about evidence and it is reconstructed here in the same manner, Liz Hannah and Josh Singer's script built layer upon layer from painstakingly researched facts. The perfectionism of the process neatly counterpoints the haphazard nature of the way information is obtained and the awkward humanity of the characters, with all the paper's journalists aware that they may be out of their depth but equally aware that the issue they face is bigger than the Nixon problem alone - that press freedom in America could be permanently lost if they allow themselves to be silenced.

Alongside Streep, Tom Hanks shines in one of those serious roles he always coveted and has excelled in in later life, bringing an important edge of unpleasantness to his still sympathetic take on Ben Bradlee, the editor with only partial control of the paper's decisions but sharper awareness than anyone of what making the wrong ones could mean. A supporting ensemble cast effectively gets across the teamwork essential to news journalism, and it is made clear that everybody's jobs are on the line if something goes wrong, making this less a story about individual heroes and more a story about the trust and mutual commitment on which institutions depend - a direct contrast to the corruption which the Post worked to expose.

Stories that explore moral choices in this more complex way are still rare in Hollywood and certainly in Spielberg's oeuvre. The Post is superbly handled throughout, intelligent and involving. It's a timely reminder of why good, independent journalism matters.

Reviewed on: 13 Dec 2017
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The story of how the Washington Post rose to prominence by taking on the Nixon administration.
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Director: Steven Spielberg

Writer: Liz Hannah, Josh Singer

Starring: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Rhys, Alison Brie

Year: 2017

Runtime: 115 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US

Festivals:

Palm Springs 2018

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If you like this, try:

All The President's Men
Spotlight