While Steven Spielberg’s new film may initially sound like awards bait, it’s actually his best work in years.
He calls upon two acting giants to tell the story of The Washington Post owner Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) and editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), who took on the Nixon government over the suppression of The Pentagon Papers, a record of America’s true involvement in Vietnam.
The story has parallels with the present administration, where freedom of the press is challenged on a weekly basis. But this isn’t a dry history lesson, with the legendary director conveying the stakes beautifully. This is a story about freedom of speech, about holding governments to account. Amidst the sharp suits and 70s décor, Spielberg boils things down to a good vs evil crusade in the style of 2015’s Bridge of Spies. Facts are powerful and dangerous things, which makes every phone call heart-stopping.
Of course, it helps that his vision is executed by two of the best in the business. Hanks turns his charisma to maximum as the Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee who tries to convince Katherine to run the story. At first motivated by getting one over on the New York Times, Hanks gradually changes his demeanour as Bradlee realises how important this has become. It’s the kind of subtlety you only see from him when he works with Spielberg, and it’s a joy to watch.
As good as they are, both come a distant second to Streep. Her Katherine is vulnerable, alone in a position she doesn’t particularly want, surrounded by men who don’t respect her. The shot choices frame this perfectly, often showing Streep surrounded by suits. Her battle is a personal one, putting her own comfortable life at risk to do what’s right. Seeing the fear behind the eyes turn to steely determination makes the struggle real, and every scene with her is unmissable.
An incredible collaboration makes The Post a real achievement. Seeing three people at the top of their game tell a story that matters will be a thrill for anyone, regardless of prior knowledge. At a time when political discourse seems so barbaric, this story is a reminder of the power of the truth.