by Toby Woollaston
Anyone who lambasts the role of the media should see this film. Sure, the media isn’t entirely squeaky clean, but there’s no denying its role in providing a level of accountability to organisations and crucial in the defence against corruption. As free press advocate and America’s first female newspaper publisher, Kay Graham, agonises “We have to be the check on their power. If we don’t hold them accountable, my God, who will?” The Post’s retelling of a time when the free press and the U.S. government clashed couldn’t be more topical in today’s media climate of fake news and media commodification.
The frailty of free speech is thrown under the spotlight as the film (the latest in Spielberg’s burgeoning catalogue of political dramas) relays the events leading up to the infamous Watergate scandal. Focussing on a tense few weeks during 1971, the film recalls The Washington Post’s anguish over whether to publish portions of the Pentagon Papers—a damning classified report chronicling America’s dubious involvement in South East Asia post World War II. It was enough information to bring the U.S. government to its knees, but a couple of roadblocks were in their way. Most notably, The New York Times had already published some of the papers and had had the espionage act thrown back in their face. A fate The Washington Post could sorely afford given the unfortunate timing of their plans to float on the stock exchange. Meryl Streep plays The Washington Post’s owner and publisher, Kay Graham, with editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) giving a street-level perspective. The bastion of free speech relies on Graham’s fortitude of character and Streep convincingly wears the weight and anguish of her responsibility.
The film’s setup renders the first half a very dry affair. So dry, you’ll be in need of drink rather than a toilet stop. But the film’s weighty expositions are necessary to give credence to the sheer magnitude of what was at stake. The final stanza flows with more vigour and although it doesn’t offer the formulaic intrigue of a Grisham tale, The Post remains an important historical document that is confidently told by the hand of a master director and two of America’s finest actors.
Read the full review for the NZ Herald here.