White liberal America’s holy trinity of Spielberg, Hanks and Streep combine in this account of the Washington Post’s stand against Nixon over publication of Vietnam documentation. On the week after Trump’s election Hanks said on British radio that America tends to take two steps forward and one back. This is part of their attempt I guess to overcome the one step back. And it’s a noble effort. Attacks on the freedom of the press, a rousing speech at the end on the value of the press to the American people, a glossy representation of speaking truth to power. It’s not hard to come away with the intended messages.
Streep is particularly impressive as the nervous, sidelined owner of the Post who finds her meaning through the impending crisis of legal action. Spielberg, not particularly renowned in this area, creates a couple of powerful shots that can stand as shorthand for feminism: Streep walking through a crowd of women on one side of doors in Wall Street which open to a room solely populated by men; three men crowding around Streep in close, leaning on her metaphorically and literally to control her. Expect these as GIFs some time soon.
But while it’s powerful and worthwhile, it’s also rather quaint in comparison to current times. Nixon seems a paragon of virtue relative to the current White House occupant. And the power of the press seems old fashioned when aligned against Russian bot farms, Alt-right trolls and 4chan fake news memes. The role of investigative journalism will be significant if Trump is ever held to account, but it’s only part of the tale now. Glossy, nostalgic calls to a previous America aren’t going to cut it – we need different narratives but also more radical cinema.