The Post Reminds Us Why Press is Powerful
Oscar nominations have just been released and The Post received several, well-deserved nominations. On star power alone, this movie was a strong contender for a number of categories. Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks lead the Steven Spielberg directed film, which focuses on The Washington Post’s publication of the Pentagon Papers in the 1970s. Since the media and government have never been more at odds than they are today, this movie’s release seems very appropriate.
The film explores Kay Graham (Streep) as she becomes the recently appointed head of The Washington Post, which in the early ‘70s, was just a small, local paper. Having inherited the job after her husband’s suicide, many of the all-male board members don’t believe a woman has what it takes to steer the company in the right direction. However, Graham’s biggest doubter is herself. Streep brilliantly conveys Graham’s transformation from uncertain and timid to strong and decisive over the course of the film.
The main conflict comes when the New York Times starts publishing the Pentagon Papers, stolen by Dan Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys). When the Attorney General files an injunction against the Times, Graham must choose between publishing the papers, thereby putting herself and her company at risk, or not getting involved.
Ben Bradlee (Hanks) thinks it is the Post’s responsibility as the press to publish these secrets so that people know the truth. He also does not want to let the government censor and dictate what they can and cannot publish. Hanks does a fantastic job of portraying Bradlee’s sense of duty (and thankfully doesn’t drop his Boston accent halfway through like he did in Captain Phillips).
On the flip side, Arthur Parsons (Bradley Whitford) thinks it would be foolish to go up against the government at a time when the company is trying to go public. Not only could their bankers back out of deals, but Graham could wind up in jail. Parsons’s desire to save the company’s face makes sense, but he is also clearly a misogynist who does not have faith in Graham’s abilities. One thing is for sure: between this, and his role as the racist, psycho dad in Get Out, Whitford has shown us he is great at playing jackasses. There really should be an award for that.
The legality of publishing is not Graham’s only concern. Her good friend, former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood), is heavily incriminated by the papers. Through McNamara, we see some of the other side of the argument that Graham quickly crushes by asking how he could let her and their friends send their children to war while knowing the war’s grim prospects. This aforementioned scene is one of the most powerful in the movie, and it is where Graham begins to find her own sense of duty.
Graham eventually realizes she must make the decisions for herself, and the decision to publish the files inspires numerous other papers across the country to do the same. The fact that a woman, in a time when women were not given much respect, defied the most powerful man in the world and won makes the victory that much sweeter. Richard Nixon, who is only shown from the back and through a window to symbolize his perceived intangibility, becomes infuriated that the press has disgraced him. Little does he know, they are just getting started.
The Post reminds us that the press’ purpose is to give people the truth, even if that truth is ugly. With strong leads, a terrific ensemble cast, and a message that could not be more relevant, it is no surprise this film was nominated for Best Picture.
Final Score: 8/10