Finally. I can't believe it's taken this long. After all these years of denigration and disrespect, after all this time when no one would ever dare praise the press, our one bulwark of freedom against the totalitarian horror of representative democracy.
It's about time the mainstream media had its own propaganda film.
Don't get me wrong: I quite liked The Post. Or, perhaps it's better to say that I quite admired it. It's a very admirable piece of filmmaking, from a very admirable director. If you've ever had any doubt that Steven Spielberg is one of the great filmmakers of all time, all you need to do is watch him turn a story about issuing stock and publishing a newspaper into high-octane drama.
And Spielberg really, really needs us to know just how admirable the whole enterprise is. "The only way to defend the right to publish is to publish," Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) growls, as the camera pushes in on him from below. He looms over the frame, as if embodying The Spirit Of Journalism, a long-forgotten Dickensian ghost here to convince the doubters of the righteousness of the Washington Post‘s mission.
In case you missed the message, we hear it several more times. The only way to defend the right to publish is to publish is to publish is to publish is to … we get it, we get it! In the case of The Post, the publishing in question has to do with the Pentagon Papers, a dossier of documents that the New York Times got its hands on before being ordered to cease publication by the courts. The Washington Post, tired of being scooped in its own backyard by the paper of record, spends much of the movie trying to track down the goods—a move that could put the paper at risk, given the tenuousness of its fiscal situation.
Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), you see, is trying to take the company public. If Bradlee et al publish the Pentagon Papers and incur the government's wrath, the stock sale could be quashed. Graham wants to raise the funds to improve the quality of the paper—to hire more writers, more editors, and more news-breakers. Quality and profitability go hand in hand, you see, a phrase she utters and absurdly seems to believe. It's also a phrase that has been rendered meaningless by the last 20 years of media, as the internet destroyed the print advertising business and the only real boom we've seen has come recently, as a tribal urge to buy subscriptions to stick it to the current occupant of the White House has flooded a few lucky papers with funds.
Spielberg pours on the personal drama. Graham's in a tough spot, torn between her social duties as one of DC's grande dames and her societal responsibilities as the owner of a major newspaper. Is she better off being a traitor to her class or a traitor to her country? To say the outcome is predictable is underselling the matter: If you don't know which way Graham's going to go—either because you're ignorant of history or you're ignorant of how a movie of this sort, one made by dreadfully sincere center-left partisans, has to play out—I don't know how to help you.
I'm pouring on the snark because the earnestness of this movie has given me an allergic reaction of sorts. So I just want to make this absolutely clear: I actually enjoyed The Post! Spielberg keeps the action moving, frames every shot perfectly, moves the camera subtly and confidently when he isn't adopting 1970s-style paranoid thriller zooms. It's fun and funny (Bob Odenkirk and David Cross have supporting parts, giving us the Mr. Show reunion we've long wanted). And it's only occasionally unbearably saccharine, as when a triumphant Streep marches down the steps of the Supreme Court as a klatch of young professional ladies clutch their hands and gaze up at her, so proud that, finally, A Woman Did A Thing.
But, let's be honest, most readers of this site should probably avoid it. You just don't need the sort of agitation this paean to #TheResistance will likely inspire.