In the era of “fake news” and Trump’s incessant desire to mute the press, one wouldn’t have expected a piece of reactionary cinema to be an outrageous suggestion. Fortunately the man helming the first major anti-Trump administration film is none other than Steven Spielberg, who’s retelling of the Washington Post’s battle against the US Government in 1971 about the publishing of classified Vietnam War documents, simply titled The Post, bares more weight than ever in a world where an infantile tyrant is trying to put a strangle-hold on the free press.
A historical drama with modern day relevance
The premise for this film, about a local newspaper who took on an institution far bigger than themselves with a crack team of journalists, bares strong similarities to the 2016 Best Picture winner Spotlight, and whilst The Post is undoubtedly a well-made and timely piece of filmmaking, it doesn’t quite hold up to be worthy of winning the big prize at The Oscars, despite its nomination.
The importance of this film resides in demonstrating just how similar the Trump administration is to the Nixon one, highlighting the deluded actions of a wannabe tyrant who’s actions are wholly unconstitutional. Whilst these days sometimes the press are essentially useless (The S*n, Daily Mail etc), the need for real journalists to hold people to account is more crucial now than ever, given the probable extent of corruption, especially in the US, and this is something The Post tackles brilliantly. It’s resonating message that the truth must be given to the people packs an emotional punch, and this is undoubtedly the most impressive aspect of the film and the catalyst in its relevance and importance as a cinematic protest.
The power of casting
Though the indomitable Meryl Streep finds herself nominated for a Best Actress award once again, one might argue that her performance as The Washington Post publisher Katherine Grahame isn’t quite Oscar worthy, despite a typically gracious and moving performance from the greatest actress of her time. One of The Post’s great strengths is within its stacked ensemble cast, most notably the eternally brilliant Tom Hanks shining as the paper’s editor Ben Bradlee, but also the likes of Bob Odenkirk, David Cross, Sarah Paulson, Jesse Plemons and Carrie Coon amongst others flexing their acting muscles to accentuate the strength of the film’s casting.
It’s no surprise that The Post earned itself a Best Picture nomination, with its powerful message, ensemble cast and some sharp technical work. The cinematography was a notable highlight, with the constant use of tracking shots following the main characters helping to build the film’s intensity alongside a typically fitting John William’s score. Equally, some fantastically edited scenes showing the newspaper going to press makes for some really satisfying viewing, immersing the viewer into the 24 hour news cycle properly. Where the film falters at times however is within its attempts to focus on certain characters personal anguishes, and whilst the actors always brings their best to the roles, it retracts from the film’s powerful message and gets bogged down in character development that feels unnecessary. The lack of a trial scene when the paper takes on the US Government in the Supreme Court feels like somewhat of a misfire, something that could have been even more impactful upon the viewer.
Despite its strong cast and smart technical aspects, The Post’s overwhelming message of supporting the free press against tyrannical, unconstitutional Presidents is the real reason for its Best Picture nomination. The resonating impact on the viewer, understanding that we need the press to hold these people to account speaks volumes about the state of our world today. It is not a perfect film by any means but equally a very important one, despite being that finds itself deservedly in the mix for The Academy’s biggest prize.
Words by Elliott Jones