On the surface, Steven Spielberg’s “The Post” is about the story of the press publication of the Pentagon Papers — 47 volumes of highly classified government documents detailing the United States’ political and military involvement in Vietnam from 1945-1967. These documents showed that four seperate presidential administrations lied to Congress and the American public about the reasons for the Vietnam War.
That surface level plot is fantastic by itself. Never before has the newspaper editing process been so exciting. Spielberg masterfully created a film where typesetting holds the same urgency as a firefight, and where delivery trucks rolling out feels like a naval fleet action. Tom Hanks excels as Ben Bradlee, the Post’s executive editor.
But the real story is one of a woman making waves in what was then and largely still is a boy’s club. Meryl Streep plays Kay Graham, the Post’s publisher and later its CEO. She is thrust into her job by her husband’s suicide — a position she thought she would never be in. One striking scene shows Graham at the American Stock Exchange, where she is about to make The Washington Post into a public company. Colorfully dressed, she ascends a wooden staircase. At the top, a crowd of women waits outside of a door flanked by two men in suits. The women part and she passes through. The men open the door and inside, a group of men — dressed in black suits — all stand at the door. She is the whole reason that they are gathered, but she still has to push her way inside, as if they do not realize that she is there.
Throughout the film, Graham is working in the world while suffocating under the pressure of all the men around her. She is deeply conflicted during the film — doing her best to make the impossible choice between security for her family and doing the right thing. The weight of it makes her nervous — she stammers and speaks reluctantly, a far cry from Meryl Streep’s usual acting roles, which are punctuated by elegance and grace — a testament to her versatility and talent.
The moment Graham breaks the hold the Washington “boy’s club” has on her and takes control is the best scene in the movie. It is a satisfying resolution to both stories in the film and warms the hearts of the viewer. A few people in the theatre where I watched the film shouted “Yes!” when it finally happened. One woman even stood up and clapped. It was the first time I had seen a non-franchise movie inspire that kind of celebration.
“The Post” has been nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Picture and Best Lead Actress, Meryl Streep. The film is worthy of both and more, though it occurs to me that most people who are not interested in journalism and newspapers may not enjoy it as much as I did.