A few years ago, the film The Post may have been simply another historical drama by director Steven Spielberg. However, today’s political climate has eerie parallels with the time surrounding the “Pentagon Papers” in the early 1970s. In fact, Spielberg thought making this movie was so important, he wrapped production in nine months.
Starring Meryl Streep as Washington Post owner Katharine Graham and Tom Hanks as its editor Ben Bradlee, The Post depicts how the The Washington Post and The New York Times published excerpts from the top secret Pentagon Papers. This revealed that the U.S. government knew the Vietnam War was lost far before forces officially pulled out. Many soldiers continued to be deployed since admitting American defeat was not an option.
Film contributor and arts and entertainment editor at the Shepherd Express newspaper, Dave Luhrssen says that the dynamic of two protagonists worked to the film's benefit. In addition to depicting historical reality, Streep and Hanks "handled their parts very well" in their first film together.
"Of course, what can you say about Meryl Streep?," Luhrssen laughs. "She can play just about any kind of female character - could probably do a male impersonator quite well, too, if she was ever asked to do that."
In her role as Mrs. Graham, Streep plays a patrician, an upper class woman born to luxury, who was forced to take charge of a company she inherited, at a time when a woman leader was considered a liability.
"Aside from the whole First Amendment/Pentagon Papers aspect of this, it's a story about how the role of women has changed in American society," Luhrssen explains.
He adds that Hanks "had the opportunity to be what Tom Hanks can be - a good hearted, yet kind of flinty sort of guy determined to do the right thing."
Steven Spielberg has no problem drawing star power to his films, but Luhrssen says, it is impressive on how quickly this production came together. The Post delivers tension while leading to an inevitable outcome - a difficult goal to accomplish when depicting true events.
"Spielberg, I think, has a great gift of understanding - how to take a story like this out of the pages of history and make it entertaining for a wider audience," he says.
The film also delivers a powerful sense of nostalgia, particularly for audiences who have their own personal memories of these events. For Luhrssen, The Post's sweeping shots of newspaper production machinery and the details of the newsroom took him back to the Milwaukee Journal and a time when journalism had a palpable pride in its influence.
"The newsroom of The Washington Post kind of reminds me of what the Milwaukee Journal looked like when I was there in the early 1980s," he recalls. "A little smaller than the Post, but the same kind of thing - the crowded desks, people smoked cigarettes still, the clang of typewriters was still heard."
Although the film's turnaround speaks clearly to the reflection of modern times and the filmmaker's message, Luhrssen says that The Post will still have great impact on its audiences in the future. "This movie will work 20 years from now, even if all the events in the news of 2017, '18 are forgotten about... It is an enduring kind of story of human characters, of a struggle between the necessity of a free press and those in authority who would want to thwart that for their own purposes."
He continues, "It would be a shame if this was a nostalgia for people who were adults in the 1970s looking back on times gone by because it is a very relevant theme for a film. There's something really important that this movie is saying that applies to the world we live in today."