The way they lied...those days have to be over.

The way they lied…those days have to be over.

 

It seems as though we are living in an age unbeholden to the truth. Fact has been cast aside in the name of belief and opinion. That which does not serve the narrative one is trying to tell is ignored or contradicted, regardless of whether the record says otherwise.

These are strange days indeed, perhaps even dark days. However, somewhere in the middle of THE POST, viewers are forced to confront an even darker reality – one where the truth isn’t just ignored or twisted, but one where the truth is actively suppressed.

In 1971, a series of classified documents that became known as “The Pentagon Papers” were leaked to the American press. Commissioned by longtime Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood), the study was meant to document the history of The Vietnam War for future historians…perhaps in the hopes that they wouldn’t make the same mistakes.

When one New York Times reporter learns of their content, and just how much the papers contradicted the American government’s public stance of The Vietnam War, he smuggles the documents out of their secure location and begins a public expose.

Meanwhile, in the nation’s capital, The Washington Post is in a state of flux. They are already somewhat blackballed by a Nixon Administration that doesn’t care for their coverage. Editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) is at mild loggerheads with publisher Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) over what news will be covered and how. Graham initially wants to remain in the good graces of The White House for fear of being denied access to the important stories. Bradlee reminds her that access won’t matter if The White House dictates the stories in the first place.

Simmering beneath the surface is a looming public sale of The Washington Post to potential stockholders; an action that will dictate whether the outlet can keep the lights on, and for how long.

It’s in the face of all of this, that Bradlee, Graham, and The Post staff wade into the waters of The Pentagon Papers. Reporter Ben Bradigan (Bob Odenkirk) finds a source that can connect the paper with more than half of the 7,000 pages that have been taken. From there, Bradlee and his team must comb through the documents in-search of the most potent story before their publishing deadline, a mere ten hours away.

However, it’s not only a matter of bringing the truth to light.

As The Times is barred from publishing, The Post gets pulled into the fray. Should they choose to serve the public trust, Bradlee, Graham, and many others could go to jail for a very long time. Even if they are spared jail time, the sale of the newspaper itself could be compromised, becoming a whole other manner in which the truth could be kept under wraps.

It’s with stakes as high as these – and consequences too deep to consider – that Graham, Bradlee et al weigh taking on the task of reporting what they know, and telling an anxious nation the truth.

 

The Post

 

 

One could be forgiven if they greeted Steven Spielberg’s directing credit on this movie with an expression of surprise. This is, after all, the man who brought dinosaurs back to life, and aliens down from the heavens. With THE POST, he has unspooled one of the least showy films of his career. There are no dazzling feats of visual trickery in this film, no catchy quotes on-par with “We’re gonna need a bigger boat”.

And yet, if one has been paying attention, it becomes clear that THE POST falls perfectly in-line with the filmmaker Spielberg has largely become in his latter-day career. No longer the boy wonder consumed with bigger and better toys, this is now a sage storyteller consumed with instilling in his audiences a thirst for the truth.

Whether it’s a fable about due process (MINORITY REPORT), or the way an eye for an eye will blind us all (MUNICH), or the cunning machinations that are required for even the most virtuous of legislations (LINCOLN), Spielberg in this century is virtually obsessed with the moral compass of his audiences. He’s seen how lost we have become, and has taken it upon himself to guide us home.

In the hopes of this, we get THE POST: an incredible film that isn’t only interested in illustrating the role of the press, but also how that role is played. Great risk is taken in the quest to serve the public interest. Reputations are wagered and tested, laws are often bent and occasionally broken. Watching Bradlee and his team put together just one story, we are shown that it’s not just about telling the truth, but how you tell the truth. You may only get one shot at it, so what is the most important detail – the one that affects the most people? How do you get as many eyes as possible to read, understand, and spread the story?

Watching Hanks, Streep, and company bring just that one detail to light would be worth the price of admission alone. However, THE POST has bigger fish to fry. This is a film that wants its audience to consider a world where the free press is no longer free.

Between 1971 and 2017, the world as we know it has changed completely. Between 1971 and 2017, the free press as we know it has likewise changed completely. Forty six years ago, someone like me couldn’t reach someone like you, wherever you are in the world. Truth was harder to illuminate, standards of reporting were higher, axes weren’t ground quite so loudly. However, one fundamental truth has not changed. Whether it’s 2017, 1971, 1867, 1787, or 1776 – a free and independent press is tantamount to preserving a free society.

A society that chooses to cover its ears and declare ‘Fake news!’ is in danger of losing its freedom. THE POST is here to remind them of what they stand to lose.

Yes, Spielberg, Streep, Hanks, and everyone involved with this film have a liberal bias. However, that bias is less concerned with whatever party happens to be governing than it is concerned with the truth about that party to be given a voice. All actions of our civic leaders deserve scrutiny, for it is only by holding them up to the light that we can see who benefits, and who loses. A free press is the light, and the light must be kept burning.

After all, as one notorious periodical now likes to remind us – democracy dies in darkness.

 

Matineescore: ★ ★ ★ ★ out of ★ ★ ★ ★
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