Movie Review: The Post

Grace Doerfler '18, Editor-in-Chief

Despite the historical setting of The Post in the Nixon administration, it could not be a more timely movie. The viewer is flung headlong into the fast-paced, adrenaline-charged newsroom of the Washington Post, where journalists are in the midst of a gripping debate over the balance between freedom of the press and national security. The New York Times has just published a shocking story about US involvement in Vietnam—including some of the classified government documents now known as the Pentagon Papers—but has been ordered to cease publication of the documents. With the Times silenced, the Washington Post has the chance to take on the responsibility of sharing the Pentagon Papers with the American public—if only they have the courage to publish.

Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) has inherited the Washington Post from her late husband. The paper, then a family business, is just beginning to make a name for itself in the news industry. She is almost the only woman in the newsroom, and she faces a tough junction for the paper: the challenge of balancing financial stability with journalistic daring. Having to navigate a male-dominated field doesn’t make her job any easier, but, for the most part, Streep creates a powerful, elegant portrait of Katharine Graham as a strong woman in an often unwelcoming environment. Some scenes depicting female strength—Graham stoically facing a conference room full of grim-faced bankers, trying to assert herself as the only woman in the room; Graham leaving the Supreme Court victorious and quietly making her way through an admiring throng of women—are particularly affecting and very current, as the #MeToo movement spreads across the country and women from coast to coast stand up for their rights in the workplace.

But The Post is by no means a perfect portrait of female grit. For much of the movie, Graham’s character is timid and conciliatory, allowing her male colleagues to dominate financial meetings (despite her clear competence) and major decision-making. Until nearly the end of the movie, as she and the editors of the Washington Post struggle to decide whether or not to publish a damning article detailing American policy in Vietnam, she holds back, meekly asking the male editors, “What do you think?” It’s jarring when, at last, Graham gives the controversial orders to publish, as though a switch has been flipped, and she is suddenly a new, more assertive version of herself. Her resolution at the end of the movie does much to outweigh her earlier hesitancy, but it is sadly incongruous with the rest of the film.

Even considering the unsatisfying aspects of the portrayal of Graham’s character, The Post is a movie well worth watching, in terms of both visuals and content. It is a beautifully crafted film featuring handsome Washington homes, 1970s fashions, and truly breathtaking shots of the Washington Post’s printing presses. And in terms of the plot, you’ll leave the theater feeling better-informed and intellectually engaged. Although the Pentagon Papers were published decades ago, the themes of the film are deeply compelling in light of 2018 current events. At a time of reckoning for newspapers—and for journalism as a whole—The Post is a refreshing reminder of the value of a free press, and a much-needed celebration of First Amendment rights. After watching The Post, you’ll want to go out and buy a newspaper.