To Serve the Governed not the Governors in The Post

Could it be more a more timely moment than now for Hollywood to remind the public (and Washington) of the purpose of the free press?

The first hour of The Post is a rather hum-drum by the numbers affair about the lead up to the publication of the Pentagon Papers, first by the New York Times (who instantly get sued by the Nixon administration) and then by the Washington Post.  But hey, it’s Steven Spielberg directing…and Meryl Streep as the “I can’t believe I got into this mess but by golly am I gonna make something of myself by leading with my gut here!” owner of the titular Post…and Tom Hanks as chief editor Ben Bradlee (previously featured in All The President’s Men, to which this film cannily sets itself up as a prequel in the final moments)…and just look at all those TV stars in supporting roles (Carrie Coon!  Bob Odenkirk!  His comedy pal David Cross!  Bradley Whitford!).  So what the heck, the humming looks and sounds great, even if it’s all a bit dry.

But then, thanks to Spielberg’s midstream change of pacing (and the work of excellent editors), and John Williams’ score that hums like that of a great thriller, all of a sudden this little bit of “history we already knew” plays like a cracker-jack suspense flick as reporters feverishly try to meet the printing deadline working out of Bradlee’s drawing-room, and lawyers and whatnot weigh in on the implications of publishing the top-secret stuff.

It all makes for noble, entertaining, albeit not exactly groundbreaking stuff (cue the requisite depiction of how the printing press works and dawn-lit trucks tossing out stacks of tightly tied newspapers into the still slumbering streets).  By the time Carrie Coon gets to read the summation of the Supreme Court ruling that upheld the rights of the free press “to serve the governed not the governors,” it’s hard not to want to cheer (though it’s a little puzzling the film omits all of the courtroom drama).  One wonders, why is it that each generation needs to be reminded of this?  It might be old news that in every era freedom has to be won again…but you can’t fault old populist entertainer Spielberg from getting the scoop.  In that light, The Post is his most accomplished film since Lincoln.  Cheers to a little bit of light rabble-rousing just when we need it most.

Written by David H. Schleicher

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