Oscars Double Feature: The Post & All the President's Men
When done well, the Newspaper Drama can be the highpoint of story-based cinema, even more so when it's based on a true story and relevant to the times. When discussing this genre in recent years, the Best Picture-winning Spotlight has become a ready topic of conversation. But with Steven Spielberg's The Post being nominated for Best Picture at the 90th Academy Awards, a bonafide classic comes to mind: Alan J. Pakula's All the President's Men, the absolute pinnacle of newspaper movies. It may have lost the top honor of the night to Rocky, but President's Men, much like The Post is just as relevant as ever. These are two urgent films, pictures that needed to be made exactly when they were, obviously similar in a few ways that make them perfect for a double feature.
Two stories of the intrepid reporters and editors of The Washington Post, set within a year of each other, both Pakula and Spielberg put their personal spins on the material. Pakula, known for his paranoid thrillers, turns the now-classic story of Richard Nixon's downfall at the hands of reporters Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) into a dialogue-heavy tale of secret meetings, late-night interviews, and iconic performances. Spielberg, a master behind the camera and one of our most vital filmmakers, imbues his story of the Post's first bout with the Nixon administration over the publication of the Pentagon Papers with his characteristic warmth. It may be warm at times, but The Post is also unflinching in its indictment of the misuse of power, both by Nixon and the current administration. In the age of “Fake News”, these are two films that should become regular viewing for audiences. Not only for their high entertainment value, but as stark reminders of the power of a free press.
Set in the time before Woodward and Bernstein came to The Washington Post, the main connection between the two movies are of course the newspaper itself, but also its strong-willed editor Ben Bradlee. Played in All the President's Men by Jason Robards in an Oscar-winning performance and Tom Hanks in Spielberg's film, here is an iconic man in the industry that's given two vastly different takes. Robards plays Bradlee as the head honcho, answering only to himself with a gruff demeanor and a fiery temper. Hanks’ Bradlee on the other hand, answers to Meryl Streep's Kay Graham, the paper’s owner who's in the midst of a crisis of her own. Streep, in her best performance in over a decade, trades verbal blows with Hanks and everyone else, standing her ground for not only her future but for the paper that's been in her family for years. The character of Graham is absent from President's Men, seeing as how it's not her story, and that of Woodward and Bernstein and their investigation of the Watergate scandal. Both films work in tandem towards a common goal and are spectacular in their results.
The Post essentially acts as a direct prequel to Pakula's film, a choice by Spielberg that may seem jarring at first but on revisits works exceedingly well. All of Bradlee’s superiors in The Post are constantly reminding him that there will “be another one,” another shot to put Nixon in his place. Even though we as the audience know that to be true, the character himself does not and needs to fight for the right to publish. Both pictures deal with the importance of the freedom of the press. No matter how much the government doesn't like to be put in its place by the media, there are times when it needs to happen for the good of the nation. Nixon is a classic villain, not only in cinematic history but in American history as well. His disregard for the rules and devaluing of the presidency was such a damaging moment for the country that repercussions are still being felt to this day. Every huge scandal since has had “gate” attached to the end, something that is a part of Nixon's indelible legacy on our culture, as nasty as it is.
After seeing The Post on opening weekend, I popped in my copy of All the President's Men upon returning home. I did that again when revisiting Spielberg's film two weeks later. As far as this writer is concerned they're a match made in heaven, two sides of the same coin, and an essential double feature going forward for anyone who's in the mood for an entertaining night in the newsroom.