To this reviewer, who's spent his life in the newspaper business, The Post staffers and even Bradlee too often seem like clueless bumblers, out-of-touch as they play at a cat and mouse game of seeking the Pentagon Papers and then publishing them. Working from a screenplay by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, Spielberg evokes not only the feel of the 1970s, but also movies from that period - notably the standard-setter for films about journalism, "All the President's Men". Oh, yes. But Spielberg knows something about movies, and that tableau, obvious though it may be, is lovely.
While working at the Pentagon, Daniel Ellsberg discovers a cover-up concerning the war in Vietnam that spanned four US presidents. There is a sequence late in the film that chronicles the assembly of the next morning's edition that is truly fascinating in that it shows how much things have changed as well as how much work was required in order to make a deadline in those heydays of print.
Meryl Streep (as Kay Graham): "We can't hold them accountable if we don't have a newspaper".
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Soon enough, we also meet Post editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), who's sick and exhausted of his newspaper getting beat to stories of substance by The New York Times. It is one of his best performance including one more star in the hat in an already legendary career. But in the end, he always recognizes that it is her decision to publish or not. The Post and New York Times were allowed to continue to publish this material after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Nixon's attempt to stop the presses. Like a lot of women of that era who faced persistent sexism, Graham has internalized other men's doubts about her abilities, and is tongue-tied around them even when she's the boss. He pursues the story with the purest, strongest force known to journalism - that of the scooped trying to scoop their scooper.
Up stood Bradlee and his prestige-hungry, competitive bunch at the Post - if only their anxious, insecure and financially embattled publisher would back their play and establish her individualism and courage against everything her life up to then had preferred that she never do. Publisher Katharine Graham leaves the courthouse, after testifying on behalf of her newspaper, and a phalanx of young women watch her walk down the steps, in speechless awe. Streep was gifted a Woody hat, and perfectly yelled, "YOU ARE A TOY" which is one of Hanks' best Toy Story moments of all time.
The supporting cast is also a collection of powerhouses: Carrie Coon, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, Bradley Whitford, Alison Brie, Bruce Greenwood and Sarah Paulson.
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This would be an unpopular movie if Graham did not find her footing, courage and voice.
The film is packed with the giant figures, good and bad, of this historic moment, when the press stood up for the people's right to know in the face of a hostile government, eager to keep embarrassing truths hidden. The film is a love letter to old newspapers, the camera lingering on the typesetters toiling on Linotype machines, and conveyor belts sending newspapers high into the sky as if they were delivering today's edition directly to the heavens. Both Graham, born to privilege, and Bradlee, making his way there, are complicit in this. And a reminder that everyone needs to be welcomed, and listened to, in the fight.
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