Hanks holds the front page in The Post
You can almost taste the newsprint as classic Spielberg film carries a vital message about the checks and balances on power
18 January, 2018 — By Dan Carrier
Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep in The Post
Directed by Steven Spielberg
THERE is something utterly romantic at the heart of this drama about how Dan Ellsberg, an analyst who had fought in Vietnam, became a true hero by blowing the whistle on the murderous warmongering of America’s Vietnam adventure.
Ellsberg gathered 7,000 top secret government reports, which showed how four US presidents had consistently lied about the country’s involvement in Vietnam. He made them public.
And while this film has at its heart political intrigue, presidential skulduggery, unforgivable state crimes that led to the deaths of millions of people, it is also about being brave enough to do what is right, no matter what the personal cost may be. Running alongside these topics, it shows how those in power can lose sight about the effect their decisions have on an individual.
The story is told by focusing on how Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and proprietor Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) were given a decision to make. Their reporters had managed to get hold of the “Pentagon Papers”, a cache of documents that showed US presidents had lied consistently to the nation over the aims and means of fighting in Vietnam.
As with newspapers in recent times who worked on the Wikileaks/Chelsea Manning case, there was a balance to be struck between public interest, not jeopardising the safety of people, and the risk of being in contempt of court. Allied to this, the film reveals that at the time of the controversy – kickstarted by the Post’s rival, the New York Times – Post owner Graham was in the process of listing her family firm on the stock exchange. Thrown together, it makes for a heady brew, especially with Hollywood big hitters Hanks and Streep in the main roles.
This is classic Spielberg. It is obvious why he felt it an important story to tell again (we have, after all, had plenty on the Pentagon Papers, from the likes of Norman Mailer, for example).
It feels horribly relevant: We have in recent times Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning’s mass leak of government info for the common good; we have a president who appears to have little understanding of evidence-based policy making and instead relies on a series of bigoted hunches to forge a political philosophy, and when taken to task by reporters is shown to hold the
Fourth Estate in utter contempt (see Trump’s constant bleatings about fake news, etc); and the great press barons still hold massive power, so watching Katharine Graham exercise it wisely – and to the detriment of people such as Bob McNamara, a person who is a close personal friend – adds another layer of intrigue. This is powerful. It looks wonderful – you can taste the newsprint – and carries a vital message about the checks and balances on power.
Cleverly, it is a prequel to All The President’s Men, which could be watched in tandem and was clearly an influence.