‘The Post’ Review: The Most Fitting Film of Our Time
Is the Tom Hanks-Meryl Streep-starrer worth the watch?
At a time when the fourth estate around the world is under unceasing attack, Steven Spielberg’s new film, The Post, has arrived to shake us up with its rallying holler. The film is set in the early 70s but appears to be the most fitting film of our time, sticking its head out for the freedom of the press.
The Post begins in Vietnam, its jungles filled with American troops fighting a foggy war. We meet Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), working for the State Department, who sees through the entire design of alternative facts fooling the American public, convincing them that the war was being won by the USA when it was obviously not so. A dawn of conscience later, Ellsberg pirates classified files of the Vietnam war through a few electrifying seconds of photocopying.
When The New York Times publishes the explosive disclosures (which later became famous as the Pentagon Papers), the American government quickly swings into action to prevent the Times from publishing anything further by twisting the legal system. The principal angst of The Post is how The Washington Post transmutes itself from a local player to a national trooper by jumping into action to match the Times’ exposé and taking the government head on.
Though the battlefield in Vietnam is abandoned post the opening frames to enter newsrooms, the viewer is never out of the minefield. In the accomplished hands of Spielberg, everything feels like the war, even the minutest of nods. He turns ticking clocks into pores of sweat, phone calls into fatal attractions, typewriters into machine guns, and deadlines into the last supper.
Tom Hanks, the man, who has become the embodiment of American civility, plays Ben Bradlee, the hard-wired editor of the Post with sophisticated grandstanding. The exchange of punches between the press and the government brings muscle to the tale, but the heart of it beats for a woman.
So, in an ideal world of men, this should be the story of the bravery of The New York Times that took the bull by its horns. Or Daniel Ellsberg who valiantly uncovered the lies successive governments peddled to the American public.
But such expected routes have been discarded for a feminist route ― a unique spin on the Pentagon Papers which strikingly enlarges a woman’s coming-of-age in the newspaper business.
The Vietnam documents loom large on the plot, but the narrative derives its true potency from the journey of Katharine ‘Kay’ Graham, the publisher of the Washington Post. It is not a surprise that the script conceived by writer Liz Hannah intended to examine the space of women in male-dominated workplaces, making Kay retain the centrality. Josh Singer, who joined later to rewrite, brought in the sense of newsroom urgency that we lauded in his last work, Spotlight.
Spielberg’s yarn of power and freedom balances the parallel of a newsroom, and Kay’s awakening out of a snooze, to take us to the final confluence of both the personal and the political. Kay became the publisher of her company after her husband, to whom her father left the company, committed suicide.
Meryl Streep’s Kay moves quite like Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling, traversing spaces full of men, opining like authorities.
The larger malignancy of menfolk incapable of believing that a female can be in charge and can make tough choices hover around Kay, in the murmur of men, sometimes so brazen that Kay has to thank them for their frankness. For so long Kay has been told that she is not apt for the job she has inherited that she starts doubting herself, and Streep shapes Kay’s uncertainty with a sly inflection of words, an upper-class airy drift of the tongue that makes the dialogue glide.
Kay is also taking her company public. At such a juncture, publishing government secrets is nothing less than a dangerous move, as everyone around tells her. Even Bradlee’s wife Tony (Sarah Paulson) tells him, Kay has more to lose than anyone else. Bradlee can find another job, but Kay will lose her entire empire.
This Kay, we learn, is known for hosting enchanting parties for powerful people. But as the newsroom and Bradley’s battle seizes her into action, she combats indecisions in tears and suppressed smiles, to finally find the drive and her real self.
Ann Roth’s costumes make the transformation of Kay a dazzling act of design. She begins with dark and grey shades, but in the vital moment of her calling, she illuminates in a free-flowing white and gold kaftan, for she has embraced the light ensconced in her at last. When she finally speaks instead of the men speaking for her, you leap out of your seat, awash in goosebumps, and hands clapping like two lost friends finally meeting.
This is classic Streep, niftily building her character brick by brick, to finally reveal a monument of pure spectacle. The awakening of Kay is the beginning of a revolt.
Spielberg, with his longtime collaborator, Janusz Kamiński’s lens, catches the newsroom of the past not in reflective nostalgia, but in vibrant perseverance.
The frames belong to a thriller, camera plunging in and watching the frantic action of typewriters, phone calls, papers and printing presses like a hawk. When John Williams’ score becomes the aide of those frames, everything becomes ticktock and you can barely hold your breath.
The Post doesn’t meander into the grey space. It is acutely aware of the time it is depicting, and the time it is serving to.
Spielberg entertains and enlivens a period piece while lionising the press because he understands the moral corruption that has invaded our post-truth world. He might have made it for his home country, but for an audience sitting in a dark theatre in India, it carries an equal amount of force.
The powerful may seem invincible on their pedestals, but they’re afraid of truths stirring in the minds of nobodies. These truths led to the Pentagon Papers and the Watergate, and the mightiest fell.
Can we ever stop the march of truth? Let Spielberg tell you the answer.
(The writer is a journalist, a screenwriter, and a content developer who believes in the insanity of words, in print or otherwise. He tweets @RanjibMazumder).
(We Indians have much to talk about these days. But what would you tell India if you had the chance? Pick up the phone and write or record your Letter To India. Don’t be silent, tell her how you feel. Mail us your letter at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll make sure India gets your message.)
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