Walking out of the cinema I wanted to punch the air. If ever you need to feel like you can accomplish anything, just watch this film, you’ll feel invincible!
Spielberg’s 2018 cinematic masterpiece documents the American broadsheet The Washington Post and it’s role in the release of The Pentagon Papers, known more wordily as
If, like me you’re a little shaky on your American Vietnam War history, you will probably at least be aware of the controversy surrounding it’s circumstance. I think most of us are aware that The Washington Post is still an active publication, so although this review will contain spoilers, I think we all know how the film ends.
The Pentagon Papers were leaked by Daniel Ellsberg, who had worked on the study, and knew all those involved well. He made copies of the study in 1968, but it wasn’t until the beginning 1971 that he approached The New York Times, who published their first article Vietnam Archive: Pentagon Study Traces Three Decades of Growing US Involvement in June of that year. Despite their usual legal council advising against the release of sensitive government information, The Times in-house council deemed it legal, under their First Amendment right to free speech.
After releasing the first article on the papers, a federal injunction was issued, censoring The Times, and preventing them from publishing any further articles on the papers, before the Supreme Court could determine the risk to national security associated with their release. At this point Ellsberg approached his contact at the Washington Post, Ben Bagdikian, and on June 18, 1971 The Washington Post also started publishing their own articles on The Pentagon Papers. This set a precedent to other papers across America who followed their lead, and published their own articles.
8 days later, The Washington Post found themselves facing the Supreme Court alongside their rivals The Times. On June 30th, a divided Supreme Court voted 6-3 in favour of the newspapers and their right to free speech. Ellsberg confessed to leaking the papers, but was cleared of all charges, despite Nixon sending officers to break into his psychiatrists office to gather intel. I assume this was what was hinted at in the final scene of the film.
So, in general the film is fairly true to history! There are of course some dramatic liberties taken, Arthur Parsons (Bradley Whitford) for example was not based on a real person. He was instead a representation of all those who felt a woman could not run a paper. The likelihood that the papers would be subject to the severe punitive measures in The Post is slim, once the papers were out, the damage had been done, it was Daniel Ellsberg who faced prosecution under the espionage act.
The portrayal of Nixon as the villain of the film is the most inaccurate. Nixon was not in office when the study was commissioned. It was the the late JFK who would have looked the fool, Nixon could have looked the hero, releasing this information to the public, it was of course he who ended the Vietnam War. Whilst he should not have ordered the injunction, he did not in fact ban The Washington Post from entering The White House after the release of The Pentagon Papers (that came later in his presidential term).
The cinematography is nothing less than you’d expect from a Spielberg film. The soundtrack, by John Williams, perfectly conveys the uplifting and dramatic nature of the film. With a cast featuring Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks and Bob Odenkirk, it’s surprising the film only received 2 Oscar Nominations, up for best picture, and Streep nominated for best actress.
My favourite aspect of the film is how effortlessly it highlights the sexist attitudes still present in the ’70s, even in a company headed by a woman. The panning scenes of boardrooms, and the stock exchange dominated by men, barging past her, and refusing to listen to Mrs Graham’s (Meryl Streep) opinions. After their decisive win at the Supreme Court, Mrs Graham is shown walking down the steps, into a throng of cheering women of all ages, the first time in the film the screen has shown a majority of women; a victorious moment. This is a perfect feminist film, suitable even for the family misogynist, because at no point does it feel as though the message is being forced upon you, it is more presented without comment.
Despite its disappointing Academy performance, I believe The Post is one of the best films of the year. I’d love to hear your opinions, comment below, or drop me a message, and don’t forget to follow my social media!