We prepare for tomorrow by studying yesterday. What once happened can clue us to what may occur. The lessons of the past warn us about what will matter as we move forward.
At this time in our country, when so many in power challenge the pursuit of truth, Steven Spielberg’s new film The Post offers an essential look at the bravery that truth requires, to find it, share it, learn from it. With the pace of a thriller, and the detail of a documentary, the film recreates a moment in time when people dare to put their lives and reputations on the line to ensure that truth is revealed. And what a story they tell.
The Post takes us back to 1971 when the nation is enveloped by an unpopular war promoted by a controversial leader. When one man decides the world needs to know what led to this war, he releases classified documents to the news media. How the Washington Post handles this opportunity and obligation frames a crackling drama that rings true. Though set decades ago, The Post is as current as the claims we hear every day that news may be real or fake.
Back in 1971, this newspaper has not yet become the Washington Post that, a year later, would begin to bring down the presidency of Richard Nixon. The Post recreates when the paper struggles to find its voice, its daring, its passion for truth, watching the New York Times with envy while uncertain what role it should play. Yes, it has an aggressive editor, Ben Bradlee, recreated by Tom Hanks. But the power rests in the intentions of publisher Katharine Graham, a timid lady who finds comfort in the social circles of the Washington elite, not the controversies of the Washington agendas. As etched by Meryl Streep in another Oscar-worthy performance, Graham is reluctant to speak out, perhaps because she grew up in a conventional world where women were seldom heard. The film becomes as much a story of this woman finding her voice as the truth that voice dares to articulate.
The relationship with Bradlee and Graham, as portrayed by Hanks and Streep, gives the film its drive. While Hanks’ performance may be overwhelmed by memories of Jason Robards’ Oscar-winning take on the role in All the President’s Men, Streep creates a fresh and an indelible portrait of a shy, sensitive woman, at home in serving cocktails in her chic caftans, unprepared to lead her organization through crisis, yet hungry to stretch her boundaries. Streep builds the performance through small moments, minimal gestures, subdued line readings, and beautifully underplays every nuance.
Spielberg brings his usual visual command and expert timing to the story, letting the content and characters soar without interruption. He directs with a confidence in the story he tells and the people be trusts in front of and behind the camera. The director reminds us that we all hold the power to tell the truth. And making those who lead us tell the truth, too.
Film Nutritional Value: The Post
- Content: High. A woman finds her voice as a nation discovers the courage to say, “bring us the truth.”
- Entertainment: High. As serious as the challenges in the film, the remarkable performances celebrate the humanity of the characters.
- Message: High. No matter that the film takes place in 1971, the lessons of this lady’s choices still matter today.
- Relevance: High. Any opportunity to examine what it takes to discover and reveal the truth makes a visit to the movies worthwhile.
- Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film with your teenagers, talk about what truth can mean to a nation.
The Post runs 1 hour and 55 minutes. 5 Popcorn Buckets. It is rated PG-13 for language and a brief war sequence.
Relive the Watergate truth in All the President’s Men
By Mark Schumann
Father of Three
People devoted to their work can change the world.
And, as we see in The Post, journalists who believe in the power of objective investigation and reporting can enlighten people to truths that others may try to hide. While their contributions may not be immediately evident, widely recognized or instantly popular, they know what difference their work will make. And they trust that, ultimately, history will judge the importance of what they do.
Few films capture the impact of journalism with the urgency of All the President’s Men. It says more about the importance of this profession because it never lets itself be about this profession. Instead it reminds us what positive change we can create if we follow our instincts, strengthen our craft and face our challenges with intensity of cause and humility of spirit.
All the President’s Men recreates a chapter in history when a nation’s embarrassment over the behavior of its president almost toppled an institution. The film dares to treat this familiar narrative as a thriller even though we know the ending. Solidifying the story with a solid core of truth gives director Alan J. Pakula the creative freedom for conjecture. Because we know the verdict, we can speculate about the accusation; since we have the answers we can savor the questions.
In 1972, two young reporters for The Washington Post, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, are passionate about their work. They realize how lucky they are to write for such a prestigious newspaper, and take every assignment seriously, even if their work habits can be sloppy. When they are assigned to cover a break in at Democratic National Headquarters in Washington, D.C., they instinctively know to look beyond the obvious. Rather than accept explanations at face value, they push and probe. When they start to wonder about the coincidence attached to the burglars’ connections to people in the White House, what they learn, and report, leads to an ultimate political nightmare.
All the President’s Men helps us picture how investigative journalists work in the days before blogs and the Internet. These reporters rely on sources, in deep background, and spend hours trying to capture a few authentic details that may help answer important questions. Paklua’s insistence on movie reality, instead of romanticized dressing, enhances the reporters’ journey. We experience, because of the director’s choices, a how-done-it instead of a who-done-it made all the more thrilling because we do know what will eventually happen. Even when we know how the film ends, we are captivated by the ways Pakula tells the story, as well as his insistence on authenticity. For the trash on the newsroom set, Pakula shipped in trash from the real place.
Woodward and Bernstein teach us that it’s not enough to have a hunch; it takes discipline to make sure what is published is true. By focusing on their passion for work, the film may inspire people to do what is right even if you hear how wrong the result may be.