There comes a point in every life when you have to grow some. Be that in the micro-seconds before a first kiss, the moment after sitting on a foreign toilet and something with teeth and fur appears to have stroked your arse, or just as your newspaper has gained access to government papers revealing decades of Vietnam-related cover-up and it’s on you, sans spouse, sans daddy, to say print and be damned. Oh yes. And so to an edgy and nervous Meryl Streep, and a…more confident Tom Hanks…in The Post.
It’s a true story and a softer, cuddlier, less chilly or interesting one than 1976’s All the President’s Men, which shares a few of the real people. Here, Meryl Streep is Washington Post owner Kay Graham, there it was, oh, not in the film. Okay, here Tom Hanks is editor Ben Bradlee, there it was Jason Robards. There it was Alan J Pakula as the director; here it is Steven Spielberg. Which may be a problem, because The Post is smooth, stylish, professional, full of powerful intent and modern meaning – given our world of American fascism and disdain or choking of the Press (yeah, that’s my view of Trump) – but…it’s missing an edge. It’s the cat that won’t hiss.
The story: okay, it’s a true one, so you should watch the film. Here’s my understanding of it: Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys doing vulnerable yet noble) gets pissed off on a shared flight with an official who feels the war is hopeless when inside the plane and takes the opposite stance outside it. So, he gets a pile of papers that proves the former, leaks them to the New York Times, which gets injunctioned into silence…then things happen that take Tom Hanks and staff to his front room with boxes and boxes of evidence, a few hours to go, and Meryl Streep taking a stance on publishing, backing off, getting hectored by old men who want to take The Post to market, then, well…you guess.
For old Jack here, the core of this film is Streep. She shows us that, no matter your age, some decisions need maturity and experience you can never have. She lives a nice life, doing quaint things in her quaint mansion, but carries the weight of expectation from the dead. A widow and a daughter-with-the-inheritance, her advisers, all whispering in her ears when they acknowledge her at all, are protective of future monies and – for the purposes of film, folks – her safe world. They are all brain and no heart. Arthur Parsons is played by Bradley Whitford, still terrific in everything he touches but so white of hair that he glows from room to room. He carries the happy shadow of The West Wing, his presence telling us that this is for real, it’s serious, and it’s about the lawmakers of Washington. For the real battle comes as Streep’s lawyers seek caution (quite sensibly so, but…) in the face of the underlying battle for democracy. For the freedom of the Press, when said Press isn’t populated by a bunch of money-grubbing, contemptuous wankers set on destroying lives, cartooning agony, all to sell a rag, is the great safety valve of our time. Streep must make the wealth-threatening, even liberty-threatening choice to protect us all…
The Post is a…let’s go with eulogy…to a moment when the Press saved the American democracy. Okay, it’s the moment before, what with All the President’s Men covering Watergate and the last So Vile It’s Difficult to Express American president. But it’s a good film about a telling moment, it just kinda lacks…grain. Of the performances, Streep, above all, makes the decisions feel present, brave and real. Hanks – two notches short of full-on blustering-editor – also shows a kind of reality, what with Bradlee’s urgency and need for ‘the story’ under everything. His is the drive that tells the tale, braves the undoings of government, and makes today’s Liberals crave a working man with morals. The stars make the film wholly watchable and fun.
Go get it. You’ll have to pay, but you’ll be buying a glossy, professional, nicely tailored (oh, they get the ’70s right…) and smudgily pointed film about old truths and modern dangers. Expect a cuddle, though, not a poke in the guts.