"The Post" Speaks Boldly to Current Events with Its 1971 Storyline

Though there is nothing glitzy or jaw-dropping about Steven Spielberg's Oscar-season offering, the story resonates. Two stellar leads, a strong supporting cast, and eerily relevant subject matter warrant The Post a strong 4.5 out of 5.


It's 1971, Richard Nixon is President, and U.S. troops are still in Vietnam after years of stagnant combat. Mild-mannered Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) is publisher at the struggling Washington Post, a role she inherited from her father and late husband after their deaths, and stepped into the role, determined to keep the business in the family.

Right after the Post goes public (a move to keep their financials afloat) the story of the decade hits: a military analyst has leaked copies of a damning report on the government's role in Vietnam (later known as "the Pentagon Papers"). While the New York Times was the first outlet to publish excerpts and analyses of these highly classified documents, this film follows Graham and her brusque editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) as they weigh the Post's tenuous financial - and legal - obligations against the opportunity to follow the Times' example and make a bold stand for freedom of the press. 

What Works?

Hanks and Streep are always powerhouses, and this film is no exception. It might even raise the bar an inch or two, because the leads play against type in their respective roles, and very deftly: Streep as a subdued, even nerve-wracked character; Hanks adopting a rougher edge for his performance as the daring, principled, executive editor. With solid, if minimal, performances from an ensemble featuring David Cross, Bob Odenkirk, and Carrie Coon.

The film also does a great job comparing and contrasting the world of 1971 with the world of 2017. We are reminded of the supremacy of paper, of long-form journalism, of deadlines and edits done by pen and sent by chutes, not by computer or Internet. This is world where writers and editors dig deep without the distraction of hyperlinks or cell phones, and where it could take weeks or months to photocopy a massive document, one page at a time.

And yet, much remains the same. A female executive often still finds herself the only representative of her gender in a board meeting. The press of 2017 faces a presidential administration hostile to their efforts. We still debate the nuances of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. The Post does an admirable job of addressing these timeless issues. 

What Doesn't?

Make no bones about it - this movie will likely offend some. The plot follows pretty closely with real-life occurrences; those aren't in dispute. What will turn off certain viewers is The Post's sheer willingness to be political. It's easy to see that the filmmakers believe Nixon and Henry Kissinger were no heroes. The correlation between Nixon trying to silence the press and President Trump decrying all but a precious few outlets as "fake news" is inescapable, and one which could cause disdain from admirers of Nixon and/or Trump.

And yet, it's truly impossible to list that as a flaw in the film. History shows that freedom of the press did indeed expose dishonesty and violence in the twentieth-century administrations of Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. It feels right that an American-made film should stand up to champion a free press, a right not guaranteed in so many nations across the globe. 

Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes

The battle for truth and freedom is set up as the primary worldview window for this film. The hypocrisy and self-servingness of both the government and of the press is confessed and discussed. Priorities and ethics of leadership are discussed, particularly as they relate to involvement in violent conflict. "We have to be the check on their power," one character says of the press coming against the government. Another remarks that the press was established to "serve the governed, not the governors."

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)

  • MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language and brief war violence
  • Language/Profanity: One use of the F-word (somewhat obscured because the character is being heard over the phone). A few smatterings of less intense profanity, such as “son of a b**ch,” “hell,” “bastard,” “Christ,” “sh*t,” and one or two anatomical slang references.
  • Sexuality/Nudity: None.
  • Violence/Frightening/Intense: There is a brief scene set in Vietnam that features men being shot and killed, and bodies are seen in body bags afterward, but the darkness obscures anything graphic. A reference to a man committing suicide.
  • Drugs/Alcohol: Smoking; conversations reference liquor; wine glasses seen a few times at dinner. 

The Bottom Line

RECOMMENDED FOR: Writers, editors, journalists, freelancers and dreamers. Those who are excited by lines like: "The only way to assert the right to publish, is to publish." Lovers of investigative journalism film adaptations, such as All the President's Men or Spotlight. Fans of Streep, Hanks, and Spielberg. Those interested in the people behind the Pentagon Papers.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Filmgoers who are bored of formulaic stories. Those who are easily bored by jargon-filled, discussion-heavy films with little action or adventure. Anyone wanting pure, apolitical escapism in film. Those more interested in the stories within the Pentagon Papers than the people (or business deals) behind them.

The Post, directed by Steven Spielberg, opens in limited theaters December 22, 2017, wide January 12, 2018. It runs 115 minutes and stars Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, David Cross, Bob Odenkirk, Carrie Coon, Alison Brie and Sarah Paulson. Watch the trailer for The Post here.

Debbie Holloway is a storyteller, creator, critic and advocate having adventures in Brooklyn, New York.

Publication date: December 23, 2017

Image courtesy: ©20thCenturyFox


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