Serving the Governed: A Review of ‘The Post’

By The Collectress

I just returned home from seeing The Post, and it is perhaps the most highly anticipated Best Picture nominee for me this year. Not only does it have apt timing for the current political climate, but it also stars two of my favorite Hollywood actors: America’s Dad Tom Hanks and Hollywood’s Queen Meryl Streep. Star power aside, the film resonates with anyone who has been paying attention to journalism for the past year and a half.

The film follows the story of The Washington Post in the early 1970s. The company is about to go public, and the majority of the company is owned by Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), who, although her family has owned the company for generations, took over the company after her husband’s death. Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) is the editor of The Washington Post and seeks to transform it from a small city newspaper to a competitor of bigger papers like The New York Times. When the Times begins to break the biggest story of the decade, featuring classified documents relating to the Vietnam War, the reporters at the Post seek a breaking story of their own and eventually find themselves fighting for their right to publish as outlined in the First Amendment.

Kay Graham is the lone woman in a room full of men throughout most of the movie, and I expected Streep to command the room from the beginning. It was not the case. Kay is reticent, second-guessing herself and deferring to the opinions of men for most of the film. She explains it to her daughter at one point as just “the way things were.” It is unnerving to see someone as strong as Streep play such an uncertain woman, and when she finally stands up to the men who surround her, it is a moment of quiet triumph that any woman who has felt eclipsed by men can relate to. More importantly, she faces her fears about the fate of her business, and the possibility of her own arrest, to publish the truth of the Pentagon Papers to the American public. She is informed by several people that publishing the information contained in these documents would be to challenge the Nixon administration. She does it anyway in an act of true bravery.

Tom Hanks’ Ben Bradlee is a journalist who seeks to reveal the truth no matter the cost. He points out to Kay several times their obligation to share information with the public, and he is a fierce defender of the first amendment. He’s not perfect, however, because he often times pushes for the truth without regard to what it could cost The Washington Post. He and Kay make a good team: there is a balance between their personalities that allows for some great progress to be made. So too do Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks balance each other out, and their chemistry onscreen is so natural that one can only wonder why they hadn’t worked together before.

The film’s production, from script to final cut, lasted little more than nine months. It’s not difficult to imagine why Steven Spielberg would rush production to so short a time. The film draws several parallels to current events: there is an ‘us v. them’ attitude between politicians and journalists, the White House seeks to restrict information and access for journalists, and the protections of the First Amendment are called into question in a case that makes it all the way to the Supreme Court. In the end, the press are triumphant and the film closes with an allusion to the Watergate scandal–which was covered by The Washington Post.

Basically, this film is Hollywood’s way of saying “f**k you” to anyone calling journalism ‘fake news.’

The Post serves to remind us that the value of journalism (not tabloids) is that it can hold those in power accountable for their actions and for the information that they feed to the public. Perhaps the most telling quote of the purpose of the film is this: ‘In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors.’

In conclusion, I leave you with this gif of Meryl Streep’s speech at the 2017 Golden Globes:

The Post is now showing in U.S. cinemas.