With Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, Sarah Paulson.
The movie opens with a combat scene during the Vietnam War; soldiers paint their faces to camouflage further their night time raid in the jungle. They are attacked, instead of being the attackers. Casualties are high.
While the soldiers have been assembling and cleaning their guns, one man carries a typewriter: Daniel Ellsberg, a special reporter employed by the State Department writing on the progress of the war.
Ellsberg is summoned to advise the generals what he saw on the front. It is a political moment: telling the truth sounds like mutiny. So he hedges. Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense, hedges further, stretching political expediency into something more dangerous, into something that threatens thousands if not millions of lives.
The Post is not about all those human lives lost though. It is about the power of the press, and one moment during the Nixon administration when the press was challenged and fought back in order to expose what had been happening during the decades of conflict in Vietnam.
There are several heroes in this movie. First and foremost is Ellsberg, who had the courage to steal confidential files from the Pentagon and expose the government’s falsehoods.
But the most poignant and intimate portrait is of Katherine Graham, a well mannered lady of high degree, someone used to living well, in mansions, treating her friends to birthday parties, her colleagues to retirement speeches. Graham as the only woman in power at the Washington Post is not often listened to, more commonly disparaged as a woman out of her depth in managing the paper.
But as she is called on to make an essential decision, even though her most trusted advisors suggest the prudent path, she sticks her neck out, decides the opposite, and speaks her mind. Her decision is historically significant.
Streep orchestrates her performance with great subtlety. Tom Hanks as Benjamin Bradlee does a great impression of the Boston Brahman know it all.
What began as an enlightenment of one woman in the form of Katherine Graham, publisher, actually was informed by many other women who were relegated to lesser positions because of sexism. Sarah Paulson in her role as Bradlee’s wife explains why Graham’s act was more courageous than Bradlee’s. It is a fine moment in the movie, when without some of the grandstanding and preachiness evoked at other points about the power of the press, a political victory is made.