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Review: The Post

Spielberg takes on freedom of the press in a terrific thriller writes Jessica Jenkinson

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Image: 20th Century Fox/Universal Pictures


Director: Steven Spielberg

Starring: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk

Length: 1hr 56m

Rating: 12A

Spielberg's latest thriller, The Post, is one that empowers the words of a local Washington newspaper to a level of national outcry, scandal and reaction. The backdrop of America in the early 1970s ignites the narrative amidst a society rife for progression regarding the freedom of speech, the rights of women, and the social wounds of the gruelling war in Vietnam.

Image: 20th Century Fox/Universal Pictures

The opening of the film is clever in its promotion of written word as a weapon against the injustice of war; a clever transitional scene has gunshots from frontline Vietnam resonating into the shot like the motion of the keys on a typewriter. However, this image of written warfare, away from the frontline, is severely diminished in the office of The Washington Post. Protagonist Kay Graham, played by Meryl Streep, is the inheritor of the family newspaper business. Initially, she is characterised as both nervous and demure in the grey, middle-aged man cave of her late husband's office. Timidly footed, she weaves her way around an office of men who overtly criticise her running of the failing paper, attributing the stale content and financial turmoil to the 'incapabilities' of a woman director.

Spielberg erupts the banal scene when, true to real happenings, documents revealing the corruption and mistakes of the Vietnam War are leaked from The Pentagon and are plastered on the cover of competitor newspaper: The New York Times. Kay grasps the unofficial source of the leaked documents, in a bid to redeem herself, her business, and the misinformed households of America. The series of close-up shots of plastic wire telephones creates anticipation as secret conversation fuses the team, notably Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and Fritz Beebe (Tracy Letts), in a walk on the hot coals of President Nixon's law.

Image: 20th Century Fox/Universal Pictures

It is in the second half of the film that Streep's once-'cocooned' character takes flight into a scenario involving one of the most controversial stories in the history of American press. Kay's change is depicted exquisitely through her costume change. The prim and restricted business suit morphs into a floating, wing-like gown. Streep wears this during a climactic late-hour meeting of senior staff and herself to make a potentially jeopardising decision. In this scene, Kay is initially framed in a cluster of her male colleagues. She then asserts her role as leader, rising from the table and delivering a powerful monologue, while the floaty garment moves around her powerfully. As a defining moment of the film: it is very 'Iron-Ladyesque' in direction. Kay's moment of ascension here surely comments on the change of women's voices in the work place, and the slow victory of many other oppressions that Spielberg develops throughout the film, using scenes of rallying youths armed with billboards.

Spielberg cleverly rounds the anticipation, fear and unease the audience feels by closing the film as he opened it: empowering the written word. The cinematography of the printing press, from the aligning of letters, to the metallic stamps and the uniform ripples of paper on the conveyor-belt, overwhelms the screen. The uniformity, quick pace and sharpness of the press line is an image that demands fairness and truth from this episode of historical deception. In light of contemporary political issues regarding freedom of speech, the film provides an engaging topic that still resonates with a contemporary audience. Spielberg closes the film with a rather surreal scene of the printing press, whereby the ripple lines of paper crawl in the foreground of Kay and Ben talking, like the movement of a large paper snake. This satisfying upwards crawl of The Washington Post is perhaps symbolic of the slow, yet progressive movement of rights and progressions at the epicentre of the film.

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