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Film / The Post

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"Find those pages!"

Kay Graham: Do you have the Papers?
Ben Bradlee: [Beat] Not yet.

The Post is a 2017 historical drama film directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, and a slew of well-known character actors you would probably recognize from TV.

It tells the true story of how The Washington Post, led by its publisher Kay Graham (Streep) and executive editor Ben Bradlee (Hanks), defied the Nixon White House in 1971 to publish the leaked US Department of Defense documents later known as the "Pentagon Papers", which detailed how government leaders had spent years misleading the public about The Vietnam War.

The film was given a limited release on December 13, 2017 before a wide opening on January 12, 2018. The trailer can be seen here.

The film is dedicated to the memory of Nora Ephron.

This film provides examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: Kay's lawyer says that a "disaster" would constitute Ben getting hit by a bus, the world running out of newspaper ink, or the bus coming around the block and hitting Ben again. Kay lets off a hearty laugh at this.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Not a single line, but Kay gives a slew of them to her old friend Robert McNamara, asking how he could send soldiers (including her son) into a war which he knew was unwinnable. His response is a stumbling rehash of buzzwords like "containment" and "the domino effect" which even he doesn't sound particularly convinced by.
  • Artistic License – History: The characters all treat the study as "proving" that the war was "unwinnable". The real life study was largely intended as a history, and it didn't draw any conclusions about whether the war was "winnable" or not. Publishing the study had the impact it did because it showed that the US government had been lying to the public about some of its motivations at getting involved in the war and that it had kept many of its actions that would have been viewed as controversial or illegal a secret from the public.
  • As Himself: President Nixon is seen through the window of the White House, disparaging The Washington Post and The New York Times on his secret Oval Office recordings (Word of God confirms they used the real deal.). He makes a remarkably effective villain, despite being only tangentially related to the Pentagon Papers themselves.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: After Ben has spent much of the film ignoring his wife while her house gets turned upside-down and she provides food for him and his colleagues, he goes to help her clear up her art studio, and accepts the gentle "The Reason You Suck" Speech she gives him. She, for her part, shows that she tolerates his bad moments for the sake of his good ones.
  • Brick Joke: Ben Bradlee's daughter is selling lemonade at 25 cents a cup only for Ben to declare that the price has gone up to 50 cents. Later, we see the daughter march past with a sign where the original price is crossed out and the new price painted on. Still later, we see the huge stack of cash she made.
  • Broken Pedestal: The first half of the film deals with Kay and Ben having to come to terms with the fact that the politicians they socialized with were perpetrating horrible things in Southeast Asia and used their friendship to make sure the Washington Post wouldn't dig too deeply.
  • Continuity Nod: With All the President's Men; see Sequel Hook, below.
  • Da Editor: Bradlee, particularly in his insistence on getting the story and then running it.
  • Dramatic Irony: At several points during the film, characters opine about their chances of getting another story like this, and at the end, Kay Graham says she might not survive another ordeal of the same magnitude. But as the audience already knows (and is revealed at the very end), Watergate is just around the corner...
  • Enemy Mine: The Post finds itself on the same side as their major rivals in Boston and New York at the Supreme Court hearing, as freedom of the press affects all of them.
  • Everybody Smokes: The free use of tobacco in the 1970's is lightly touched upon throughout the movie, but when the Post's senior reporters start digging into the Pentagon Papers, they start sucking down cigarettes while filling Bradlee's living room with thick smoke.
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: Roger explains the exact wording of the injunction against the New York Times and correctly guesses Bagdikian got the papers from the same source as the Times. Thus Bagdikian quietly freaks out.
  • Fish out of Water: At the beginning, Kay is totally out of her depth in the boardroom and stock exchange, and completely freezes up a couple of times. This is clearly due to a lack of experience rather than genuine weakness, however, as she is perfectly confident making speeches at high-society parties and confronting powerful people in their own homes, because she has done that before as wife of a newspaper owner. All this is before she shows what she's really made of when she makes the decision to publish the papers.
  • Growing the Beard: In-universe and a Real Life example with the paper itself. At the time, The Washington Post was seen as a lesser player on the DC circuit and perhaps a bit too chummy with the government. It wasn't until they took a risk on the Pentagon Papers that they truly became a force for investigative journalism.
  • Hidden Depths: At first, Kay seems to be a wishy-washy owner more concerned with solvency than legitimacy. Once she makes the decision to publish the Pentagon Papers and especially after it becomes apparent she may go to prison over it which gives even Ben pause, her inner strength and bravery shines through.
  • Historical Domain Character: Everyone, but special note should be given to Richard Nixon (as himself), speaking on his own secret recordings — then unknown to the public — while being mimed by an actor seen through a window of the Oval Office.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: When Marina is offering lemonade to the reporters while they're reading the Papers, Meg quips, "Does it have vodka in it?"
  • Intrepid Reporter: Much of the Post's staff, but perhaps most notably Ben Bagdikian.
  • Local Angle: Running just under the surface is the tension of Bradlee wanting to raise The Washington Post beyond being just a "local paper" (albeit for Washington, D.C.) to the national profile of The New York Times, versus Graham’s desire to protect her company and its IPO. She eventually comes around.
  • Lock-and-Load Montage: Done with the Post's printing presses being prepped for the first Pentagon Papers story.
  • Metaphorically True: After one of Abe Rosenthal's editors tells him government has applied for an injunction against the New York Times to prevent them from publishing any more of the Pentagon Papers, and he leaves the club where he's been having lunch, Kay tells Abe's wife she's going to take care of the bill. As it happens, she does tell the maitre'd she's going to pick up the tab, but the actual reason she leaves the table is to call Ben to tell him the news.
  • Off the Record: Brought up through numerous high-society gatherings and the personal connections of Bradlee and Graham (both members of East Coast establishment families) is that they are jeopardizing their relationships with government insiders and their ability to socialize with them as private individuals. They eventually decide that freedom of the press, and the public's right to know, are more important.
  • The Oner: Spielberg utilizes his trademark "Spielberg Oner" at several points in this film, the most intricate being the evening argument at Ben Bradlee's house, following Bradlee through multiple rooms as two different arguments escalate into shouting matches.
  • One-Steve Limit: If it wasn't a true story, there's no way two major characters who play similar roles would both be named Ben. The fact that Ben Bagdikian is mostly referred to by his surname helps avoid confusion.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Kay is shocked when Robert McNamara explodes at her that Nixon is a "son of a bitch" who is completely different from his predecessors in how he will react to journalists defying him. It's one of several things that really drive home to her what a huge risk she's taking.
  • Oscar Bait: The film was hit with multiple accusations of this: Christmas Rushed for awards season consideration, a historical drama featuring some of the biggest names in film and TV in a dialogue-heavy plot with a timely message and fronted by a disadvantaged woman in a field dominated by men. (During the Golden Globes ceremony, one of host Seth Meyers' jokes involved the film being showered with awards, though it failed to earn any that night) While doing fairly well critically and commercial, it ultimately failed to make a splash in the awards circuit and was nominated for only two Oscars and lost both (though it nevertheless managed to snag a coveted Best Picture nomination).
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Ben and Kay.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: While it mostly takes the form of one Armor-Piercing Question after another, this is very much the effect of Kay confronting McNamara over how he could stand with her as her son went off to fight when he knew full well the war was unwinnable.
    • A more subtle and downplayed one is given to Ben by his wife. She points out that Kay is risking a lot more than he is (he already has a reputation as a talented maverick, so could get a job at another paper easily if the Post collapses, while Kay would lose everything,) and by mentioning how Kay has spent her entire life being taught to be a background figure to men, she also draws attention to how Ben casually turned their house into a headquarters for his colleagues without asking whether she minded the intrusion, or questioning the snacks and meals she provided for all of them. He doesn't apologize, but he accepts the rebuke and takes it to heart.
  • Sarcastic Confession: As Bagdikian is bringing the papers on the flight back to D.C., the stewardess sees him trying to put a seat belt on one of the boxes he has, and notes it must be precious cargo. Bagdikian responds, "It's just government secrets," which she laughs at.
  • Sequel Hook: Right when the camera zooms out and you think the movie's going to start telling you what happened to the characters later on, it cuts to Nixon saying the Post will never be allowed in the White House again and then a security guard discovering a break-in at the Watergate Hotel. You can practically hear the guard say, "here we go again!"
  • Shaped Like Itself: When the reporters are outside Bradlee's house, they see his daughter Marina selling lemonade, and one of them asks what kind of lemonade it is. She responds, "It's the one with the lemons in it."
  • Shout-Out: Two to All the President's Men
  • Significant Wardrobe Shift: Kay Graham's wardrobe transforms throughout the film. She starts out wearing blues and grays that make her blend in with the scenery and other characters. But when she begins asserting herself in the dispute over the Pentagon Papers her wardrobe shifts to golds and yellows to make her stand out. By the end, she's wearing boldly patterned clothes to symbolize that she's gained confidence and has fully stepped into her role as publisher of the Washington Post.
  • Splash of Color: In the final third of the film, Kay Graham dresses in golds and yellows to make her stand out from the rest of the cast dressed in grays, blues, and browns.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: Kay Graham finds herself running into this attitude, in spite of being the paper's owner.
    • Kay explains to her daughter that her father (one of the original owners) ceded his leadership to his son-in-law (Kay's late husband) and that it was taken for granted (by Kay as well) that Kay would stay back and raise the kids while he ran the paper.
    • At a dinner party, the genders separate into rooms where the men talk politics while the women talk over lighter subjects, no one finds it odd that Kay (with her connections and her occupation) wasn't able to join the men.
    • Men subordinate to Kay even talk to her in the manner they would a secretary, not their boss.
  • Stealth Prequel: Of a sort, to All the President's Men. Aside from the obvious fact of being based on real-life events at the same newspaper during the Nixon administration and sharing several characters (most notably Ben Bradlee), the Sequel Hook at the end and the setting of all credits in Helveticanote  solidifies it as this.
  • Tempting Fate: Done twice.
    • Kay wonders if something "catastrophic" could happen in the seven days after the company goes public, thus risking the paper's funding. Like say, The Washington Post getting copies of the Pentagon Papers, thus becoming part of the injunction against The New York Times?
    • At the end, Kay and Ben are relieved they won't have to go through anything like this again. Cue the Watergate break-in.
  • War Is Hell: It's safe to say that the film is heavily critical of the Vietnam War, noting how the U.S. Government knew it was unwinnable and that soldiers were dying as a result.
  • Waxing Lyrical: At the retirement party she's throwing, Kay says to the crowd, "Let me tell you a little about why we're so wild about Harry."
  • Wham Line: In-Universe, when one of the team finds the passage above indicating that the government knew the war was a dead end.
  • You Are Not Alone: After The Washington Post publishes the Pentagon Papers in defiance of the judicial ban, Ben Bradlee brings a paper sack up to Kay Graham's office, laying out editions of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The Christian Science Monitor, The Boston Globe, the Tallahassee Democrat, the Detroit Free Press, and The Philadelphia Inquirer, all of which followed her lead to publish the papers.
    Kay: At least we're not alone.
    Ben: No matter what happens tomorrow, we are not a little local paper anymore.