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There is one scene in Steven Spielberg’s The Post that is striking for so many reasons.
Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), after convincing Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) to publish the legally contentious McNamara reports, tells his wife Tony (Sarah Paulson) of his feat, hoping to receive validations for the courage he has mustered to face possible irreparable career damage and imprisonment just for the sake of upholding the freedom of the press. Tony lauds Kay instead, stating that “to make that decision, to risk her fortune and the company that’s been her entire life, well, I think that’s brave.”
Ostensibly about press freedom
During that one moment, the one act of Kay turns into the only act that mattered, and the burden of that act is validated not by a man, but by another woman. During that moment, the movie profoundly shifts its focus. During that moment, Tony appropriates the adjective Ben wants for himself to describe Kay, Spielberg pulls away the film’s attention from the toil of all the film’s heroic reporters and assets and gives it all to Kay, who shapes up to be the film’s unlikely heroine. (READ: ‘The Post’: a Hollywood ode to journalism)
It is ostensibly a film that champions the importance and value of press freedom.
From a character study of a woman who is born into wealth and privilege, who at first is forced into silence in a boardroom full of high-powered businessmen but eventually gets the leader of the world’s most powerful nation unreasonably vindictive, the film proves to be more than just about free speech. It evolves into an essay on power relations, how in a world with defined authority structures or preexisting patriarchies, power can be redeemed by access to information or integrity.
It is a very cleverly conceived film. It opens with war, with soldiers being ambushed deep within the jungles of Vietnam. The film then exchanges the brutality of the battlefield for the heat and pressures of the enclosed offices and crowded newsrooms. The similarities in atmosphere though are scathing.
Its portrayal of the events leading to the Washington Post’s publication of confidential government information makes it utterly relevant in this day and age when the entire institution of the press is being savaged by suspiciously charismatic demagogues. It can stop at being a rallying point of how the press functions not as a hindrance to nationalistic ideals but as an essential part of the balancing act between the governors whose tendency is to abuse, and the governed. However, the film strives to add a human element to its advocacy and in so doing likens the struggles of the press within a combative political climate to the struggle of a woman to find a voice in a world dominated by men.
It might seem that Streep, whose illustrious career spans numerous accents and portrayals of various personalities, is simply churning out another routine performance, one that no longer surprises because it has become part and parcel of what to expect from the actress.
At first, it does feel like just another impressive but predictable Streep performance, where each gesture, mannerism, and verbal tic of the real person she evokes are imitated to the tee. Her performance evolves as the character’s role and involvement in her company’s insurrection against the government’s devious cover-up expand. There is an exciting meticulousness to the emotional heft she grants Kay. Streep makes the doubt, the hesitation, and ultimately the resolve that pervades her character’s narrative. It really is a moving performance.
It is Spielberg, however, that steers the picture to near perfection.
His collaborations with cinematographer Janusz Kaminski have resulted in a filmography that offered a variety of looks, all depending on the creative aim of Spielberg. This time, the camera work is sublime, evoking the moral pressure of the times, the suffocating stresses of both the workplace and high society, the out of the most typical of places. The tension is palpable, with each conversation, each phone call, each time Bradlee suddenly visits Kay in her home provoking a sense of urgency and uncertainty. The Post is essentially a war film, complete with the stirring psychology of Davids fighting Goliaths, only this time, the warriors are garbed in coats and dresses.
Timing is important
The film couldn’t have arrived at a more precise time. When the importance and value of the press have been compromised by insecure and guilt-ridden regimes and their duplicitous machinations, it is essential to look at the past to be reminded of resounding victories. – Rappler.com
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas’ Tirad Pass. Since then, he’s been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema.