2015’s Bridge of Spies was possibly Steven Spielberg’s most boring movie. This year he has another true story, but it is far more entertaining. It’s a journalism film set mostly in 1971, starring Meryl Streep as Kay Graham, who is the owner of the Washington Post. She has big decisions to make when a series of papers arrive at her newsroom documenting lies the government told about the Vietnam War. The New York Times have got to the story first, but the Nixon administration is quickly onto them. Graham must decide whether to publish the papers or not, with her editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) pushing for free speech whilst the board of executives worry about the newspapers future.
This film is about a lot of things. It is mostly about the change in the freedom of the press, and how Journalism must criticize government rather than be friends with it. There is a strong subtext of feminism that is driven by Streep’s character being the boss in a man’s world. She has stumbled into this role and has to handle all these men doubting her, and Spielberg tells this narrative pretty well. At times the subtext is hammy, and pushes the drama into the obvious. This is not a major flaw, because it’s a story that Spielberg is pitching to a mainstream audience. It has be a simple message, so that it can be understood universally. This means that the film never reaches the class of a film like Spotlight, which is more nuanced. Despite this it is still really well crafted, and at times works likes a thriller. This is when the film picks up the pace, and becomes really fun to watch (especially if you’re a journalism student).
Meryl Streep being brilliant can get quite dull, but in this film she reminds me how outstanding she is. From the trailer I was expecting a grandstanding Oscar performance, but instead she’s very vulnerable and quirky. Her character is shown to be quite dorky, and shy, yet still have a resilience to fight back. Streep portrays this perfectly, being both amusing and lovable. She has a great partnership with Tom Hanks, who does well in a grittier role, and his ability to grab Spielberg’s camera is paramount.
Spielberg’s direction is comprehensive and patient. The way he shoots dialogue is almost of a lost age where he stays on shots, instead of cutting from one person to another. This allows the drama to settle, and thanks to some catchy camera-movements the film is thoroughly engaging. It really comes across to me like a film made by experienced campaigners at the top of their game. Even though the film is not always perfect with its delivery, it mostly nails what it is trying to do. It’s one of those where I’m sure the world is a better place because of its existence. Oscar bait it may be, but that’s not an entirely bad thing.
Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket? Yes.