I think before you see this movie, it helps to understand the story behind it. The Post is a movie about the publishing of the Pentagon Papers, classified documents regarding the United States government’s 30-year involvement in the Vietnam War. The scope of our involvement was much larger than Americans originally were led to believe, and a reporter named Daniel Ellsberg, who had worked on these papers, published these papers in 1971.
The 70s were a dark and smelly time. Everybody smoked and a large number of people spent the entire decade in a basement. Other indicators of the decade include shaggy hair, excess amounts of polyester, everybody wearing the same pair of glasses, and any technology that existed was inefficient and bulky. The copier Ellsberg used was also bulky and inefficient, you couldn’t just feed the sheets into those things, and they had a tendency to break down. Not to mention that the report itself was 7000 pages long. He must have stood there for hours copying those pages. I’m not sure if he photocopied them in the Pentagon itself, but if he did, you’d think someone would have asked him what he was doing. Anyway, he copied the whole thing, got out of there with it, and he got those copies to reporters to publish. That in itself was a feat.
That would probably be enough to have a movie because you have newspapers publishing secret information and the government trying to stop them, but you also have shareholders, lawyers and personal friends trying to stop this as well. Everybody is threatening the freedom of the press, so we have to publish this now no matter what, and it goes to the Supreme Court. The movie is just as much about Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep) no longer letting her board members walk all over her and taking control of her paper as it is about freedom of the press, but it’s so quiet and slow-paced that it’s not really anything where you sit there cheering her on. One of the Post board members outright says they’re skittish about having a woman in charge, but I just never find myself caring about her. She doesn’t stand up for herself soon enough, and I just never feel any outrage. I don’t think her performance is bad; I think it’s just how it was written.
It’s all very quiet except for an initial scene in Vietnam itself, and a couple of shots of protestors. There’s a lot of low talking and urgent discussions about should we or shouldn’t we, and part of the problem is that you know where the conversation will eventually go. So I didn’t watch this for the character journey, or excitement, but I did enjoy watching for costumes, props, and other little things. Accuracy often gets thrown out the window in favor of drama, so I try to just enjoy the view. At one point, a woman drops off an anonymous package on a reporter’s desk, and he opens it without calling emergency services or even panicking. A story is sent from one area of the office to another via one of those vacuum tubes like they have at the drive-thru at the bank. People struggle with rotary pay phones and loose change. People are reading newspapers and not tablets or laptops.
You can also watch for the actors you recognize. In addition to Meryl Streep, there’s Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, and Michael Stuhlbarg, who played Arnold Rothstein in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.In my personal fandom category Philip Casnoff of the 80s miniseries North and South plays Chalmers Roberts, and of course, there are several more to be found.
Overall, this Steven Spielberg movie it not a boring movie, but it helps to have an interest in the subject matter or the time in which it happened. There are not any explosions or even loud, passionate arguments for or against publishing what were secret government papers. So why should you watch it? Well, I was born in Washington DC during this whole mess, and I have never paid much attention to the Pentagon Papers. Now that I’ve watched this movie, I have a rough idea of what was going on at that time, and the story itself is actually very interesting. I recommend you all make yourself your favorite caffeinated beverage, sit around your TV, and watch this movie on HBO. It’s not a substitute for learning history, but it will give you an idea. I think it will make you want to know more about it.
The Post debuts on HBO on SATURDAY, OCTOBER 27 at 8:00pm and then appears across HBO’s platforms.