‘Post’ timely docudrama that sheds light on press freedom

J.T. Johnson
Special to The Saline Courier

“The Post” is a docudrama that recounts how The Washington Post published the now infamous Pentagon Papers, a detailed study showing how America was not going to win the Vietnam War and that the only reason we were still there was to avoid a humiliating defeat. After military analyst Daniel Ellsberg leaks information to The New York Times, the government is quick to charge the Times with leaking information that was detrimental to the national security of the nation. At the Post, editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) wants to get a hold of the papers so that they can publish them, much to the chagrin of those on the board.

Ben also has to deal with the reluctance of Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), the publisher and owner of the paper. She often feels like she is in over her head, but this is mostly because she is having to fight a time where women were not seen as real contenders in the business and newspaper world. Then, one of Ben’s reporters, Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk), gets in touch with Ellsberg and gets the papers.

The question for the rest of the film is whether the Post should publish the papers with the fear that the government might come down on them as well. It is this legal and investigative drama that drives the film. It is appropriately told in a matter-of-fact way without feeling like there is too much grand posturing.
Instead, it deals with an editor who was probably too close to a former president and a publisher who often hosts people in power at her house. It is about a time when journalism decided to take a strict stand against the seedy underbelly of politics in order to keep a watchful eye on those in power. This, along with the Watergate scandal that would follow, helped bring about a new era of watchdog journalism.

In fact, if you were to ask me what the tone of the film really is, I would say that it shares a lot in common with the 1976 film, “All the President’s Men.” That was the film that explored The Washington Post’s investigations into the Watergate scandal that was instrumental in bringing down President Richard Nixon himself. Actually, I would say that you could definitely watch this more as the first part of a two-part series including “President’s Men”.

Now, if you were looking for a big, detailed history of the papers themselves, then you would need to look at a more comprehensive documentary. Spielberg wisely gives you the reason for why the papers are important, but focuses the film more on the battles happening at the Post. While we know that Ben’s freedom of the press arguments is ultimately right, there was a legitimate reason for them to worry, not so much from a legal standpoint but from a business perspective.

At this time, the paper was considered small-time and should they get into a legal wrangling with the government, then the Post could have gone under completely. Thankfully, Spielberg chose a heck of an ensemble to tell this complicated story as well. Firstly, Hanks and Streep can both act effortlessly in their sleep, so it’s not surprising that they turn in stellar and award-worthy performances.

The surprising performance that almost stole the whole show for me, though, was Bob Odenkirk as Ben Bagdikian. Odenkirk plays a bigger role than I thought he would and he takes the same dramatic talent that he brings to “Better Call Saul” to his role in this film. I haven’t seen enough praise for him so I wanted to take a moment to single him out.

The only way you don’t enjoy this movie is if you’re just not a fan of straight-forward docudramas. Spielberg helms a gripping drama with a cast that has no weak links. Sadly, with our current administration challenging the press in a somewhat similar fashion that Nixon did, it is a timely film that shows the press that one of our responsibilities is to speak truth to power and inform the American public of the truth when it is discovered. This film and its message is as important as ever and should be seen by everyone.