Review: Is ‘The Post’ The Best Journalism Movie of All Time?

  • Editor’s Note: I wrote too long (sorry), so I divvied this into a three-part series about “The Post” and the best journalism movies of all time.

The Post 4

BY RICK NAGEL, NINA board member

Seriously, it stars Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, arguably the best female and male actors of my generation, together for the first time. It’s directed by Steven Spielberg, arguably the best filmmaker of my generation, and the original score is by John Williams, who is hands down the best movie composer of my generation.

Screen Shot 2018-01-25 at 9.29.57 AMIt’s already the National Board of Review winner for Best Film, Best Actor and Best Actress, and it’s a 2018 Oscar nominee for Best Picture and Best Actress.

All of which begs the question: Is “The Post” the best journalism movie of all time?

I had a chance to see it with my lovely wife about a week ago — on MLK Day, in fact — after we showed up at a friend’s party on the wrong day (long story) and found ourselves with a few spare afternoon hours.

Here’s what I loved (and a little about what I didn’t like) about “The Post” —  from the point of view of a longtime former newspaper editor and just a regular average-Joe movie-goer.

What I Loved

The newsroom. The clickety-clack of typewriters. Powerhouse printing presses churning copy after copy. Real deadline pressure. Rolled-up shirtsleeves and wide ties and gritty, god-dammit journalism.

The Post cover“The Post” is a period piece — says so right on the website. And it’s fun to relive the days when hairy mammoth newspapers roamed the earth. Spielberg & Co. absolutely get that part right.

The story itself is a dichotomy — half looking at the financial side of newspapering and the struggles of a 1970s businesswoman/heiress in an all-man world, the other half examining the frantic competition to land and publish the Pentagon Papers.

You can argue — and Ben Bradlee does exactly that in his autobiography, A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures — that the release of those papers was a seminal moment for freedom of the press and First Amendment rights, every bit as and maybe even more important than the Watergate revelations that followed.

There’s an awesome moment near the end — and I’ll try not to ruin it for you — when I experienced a little teary-eyed pride in my chosen profession and comrades in ink.

That moment is what I loved most about this movie.

What I Didn’t Like So Much

What’s a review without a little criticism, right?

Probably what bothered me most was the Katherine Graham story arc. I got the impression from Bradlee’s book that Graham was a steely-eyed businesswoman — tough and shrewd and competitive, and that those qualities were intrinsic to her character.

Screen Shot 2018-01-25 at 9.30.13 AMStreep, Spielberg and original screenplay writers Liz Hannah And Josh Singer go out of their way to show Graham’s transformation from smarmy socialite to courageous champion of real news.

In fact, the majority of the screenplay focuses on Graham’s self doubts and insecurities, leaving the Bradlee character with the burden of having to tell us how brave she was. Really.

Also what I didn’t like about “The Post” is the same thing I think most folks will say they didn’t like.

It underwhelmed.

When you put Streep and Hanks and Spielberg and The Washington Freakin’ Post together in a movie, the expectations run pretty high.

You’re not likely to leave “The Post” fist-bumping your journalist friends. Or moved by the drama and impact of this moment in history. Or thinking you’ve just seen the best work by Streep or Hanks or Spielberg.

And that, to paraphrase the little green guy in another movie scored by John Williams, is why it failed. It is NOT, in my opinion, the greatest journalism movie of all time.

Which, of course, begs another question.