Although current president Donald J Trump may fit the profile of a petulant child with an inflated ego and bad judgement, it is the 37th POTUS, Richard Nixon, that is the focus of Steven Spielberg’s ire in his latest film, The Post.

It’s uncouth to see a President of the United States resorting to name calling and dirty tactics. Cripplingly paranoid whilst driven by hate and vendettas. Petty and childish, to the point of tragedy, whilst cold and distant. Although current president Donald J Trump could be said to meet this criteria, it is actually the 37th President of the United States, Richard Nixon, that Steven Spielberg focuses on in The Post. Shown grumbling and fist shaking in the cavernous White House, Nixon is an off screen schemer, attempting to suppress the leaking of top secret documents that suggest US officials knew they would lose the war in Vietnam many years previous. The film stands testament to the fact that although it’s not hard to believe that a government would attempt to hide the true horrors of this conflict, it is our duty as the governed to take a stand against injustices such as these. Whilst set predominately in 1972, following the press releasing the aforementioned Pentagon Papers, the themes and motifs in this film feel more current than ever.

Spielberg, ably adept at political thrillers by now, keeps the pace fast with the melodrama neatly avoided. In the wrong hands, it could easily fall into a high budget soap opera of twisting convoluted storylines. However, thankfully, The Post is a film that champions optimism in the face of adversity and sticking to your moral values, all set against the backdrop of a period of revolutionary social change during the 70’s. There are no shadowy G-Men figures, nor meetings in darkened car parks. The settings are mostly light, in bustling newsrooms and vibrant exteriors. In the Cold War era of espionage and war, there is still light in the darkness. Languid slow pans and a lack of jarring cuts provide a strong base for the actors to build upon. Much like his underrated Bridge of Spies or his sumptuous masterpiece Lincoln, this is story and character driven filmmaking of the highest quality.

Our white knight is not the gruff yet honorable Tom Hanks as Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, or the swarm of driven journalists working to expose the real horrors of the Vietnam War. It is in fact Meryl Streep’s belittled publisher of the paper, Kay Graham. Graham is surrounded on all sides by bickering men, simultaneously feeling immense pressure from both the business centric board members, as well as the creatively stifled writing staff at her paper. Thrust into her role by the untimely death of her husband, she is shunned and ignored whilst riddled with self-doubt. This, coupled with the constant withering put downs from her male subordinates, leads to entire scenes playing out with her surrounded by dozens of men. This subtle technique provides a powerful image; one that is repeated constantly as the film develops. As the crisis around her escalates, so does Graham’s confidence in her own convictions. Streep imbues Graham with a fierce determination alongside an innate sensitivity. When big decisions have to be made, it is her that makes them with renewed vigor, much to the collective joy of a watching audience. Watching this evolution is not just evocative but wholly necessary for a viewer in these troubling modern times.

Links to All the Presidents Men and Spotlight are obvious not only in the stories’ investigative journalism content but tangibly also. Debutant Liz Hannah’s script, shepherded in a co-writing role by Spotlight writer Josh Singer, is sharp, satirical and contemporary. In the pre Twitter days of the 1970s, newspapers and television were the main weapons of the free press. Whilst combat raged on in Vietnam, pioneers like Bradlee and Graham fought their own conflict from their news studio war room, reflected effectively in the staccato, machine-gun-like dialogue. After a tentative start to the movie, the writing duo build the pace and ratchet up the tension in a heart racing third act revolving around a major conflict of conscience for Graham. Bradlee himself barks, “If we don’t hold them accountable, who will?” which feels very apt in our easily accessible 24-hour news alerts and “Fake News” media age. With the current president denying all those who oppose him, the world requires more characters like them.

As casts of performers go, The Post’s must be almost on par with Arsenal’s Invincibles or Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona. Standouts include a bullish reporter Bob Odenkirk, beleaguered and resigned Bruce Greenwood (as disgraced former Secretary of State Robert McNamara) whilst Alison Brie and Sarah Paulson, outstanding yet seasoned performers, are criminally underused. Spielberg’s notorious lack of rehearsal for scenes, expecting his cast to deliver on the day, allows for glorious moments of raw emotion and humanity. Every measured pause, raised voice or rolled eye bubbles with authenticity, almost as if it was a stage production. John Williams’ frantic and ominous score adds the necessary gravitas to the proceedings whilst real archival footage and audio grounds the events in history.  However, this is a film for modern times. Feminism and the role of the media in society are explored in great depth, but both issues are interwoven in a true tale of extraordinary circumstances to deliver a film of great quality.

★★★★☆

The Post is out on general release now.