|Tom Hanks (as Ben Bradlee) and Meryl Streep (as Katharine Graham) in The Post (DreamWorks)|
Katharine Meyer was born in 1917. In 1933, her father, Eugene Meyer, bought the Washington Post newspaper at a bankruptcy auction. In 1938, Katharine began working at The Post. Katharine married Philip Graham in 1940. In 1946, Eugene handed the newspaper over to his son-in-law. During Christmas time in 1962, Katharine discovered that her husband was having an affair. The next year Philip had a nervous breakdown and eventually committed suicide. That same year, Katharine became the first female publisher of the Post. Much of that story takes a backseat in Steven Spielberg’s The Post, but it is an important backstory to the main one.
The Post’s main story is how The Washington Post and The New York Times formed a partnership to expose a top secret study known as the Pentagon Papers told from both Graham’s and the newspaper’s editor’s point of view. The secondary story is about how one woman found her own self-worth.
Meryl Streep plays the capable yet insecure Katharine. As she states in the movie, Graham loved the newspaper, but her father left control of it to her husband. When her husband died, she inherited the role, much to chagrin of others. The film shows Katharine surrounded by men and unsure of her own voice. She meets regularly with her editor, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) about various stories running in the paper. Those these lunch meetings were his idea, they don’t seem to go that well between the two. Then comes the Pentagon Papers.
In 1971, Neil Sheehan, a New York Times reporter, received an anonymous package containing a 7,000-page report filled with damning government secrets. It held secrets about the Vietnam War that spanned from four presidential administrations where the government would tell the public one thing while pursuing the opposite. After three months of study, The Times published a story about the report. Then President Nixon called for an injunction to stop The Times from publishing any more news about it. Now Katharine had to decide if her newspaper was going to jump into the fray or step away from the controversy. Her decision could cost people their jobs (if not jail time) and ruin her father’s legacy.
Though there is certainly a “woman empowerment” aspect to this film, Liz Hannah and Josh Singer’s script tells the whole story and keeps the focus balanced. Spielberg in turn does a fantastic job of telling this historical drama as a thriller. While the story takes place almost 50 years ago, it feels very relevant. Similar to President Trump complaining about “fake news,” President Nixon is shown exercising his power over what newspapers could and could not report. The Post may present an idealistic view of what the press is supposed to be as apposed to what it is in reality, but I let you decide that on your own.
The Post is bound to earn Spielberg, Streep and Hanks their next round of Oscar nominations but it also stars Sarah Paulson as Bradlee’s artist wife, Sarah; Bob Odenkirk as Ben Bagdikian, Tracy Letts as Fritz Beebe, Bradley Whitford as Arhur Parson, Bruce Greenwood as Robert McNamara, Matthew Rhys as Daniel Ellsberg and Alison Brie as Katharine’s daughter Lally.