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One of the last films to be released in 2017, Steven Spielberg's The Post has been a title stuck in the minds of critics and audiences long after they walked out of the theater. Telling the story of the Washington Post's role in publishing the Vietnam War study known as the Pentagon Papers, Spielberg's latest historical drama is right up there with the other great journalism films that have shown both the realistic and the more dramatized elements of the respected profession.
But within those prestigious rankings, where exactly does it fit? In honor of the film's roll-out into wide release this weekend, we've drawn up a list of five films that best show the news industry at its most effective. Where The Post fits in is something that might surprise you, but suffice it to say, that movie has definitely earned its place in the following group.
Reporting on a scandal in your own backyard, taking place within institutions of which you've been a part, is never easy. The Boston Globe learned this towards the end of 2001, as they dug deep into a systematic pattern of abuse in their local Cathlolic diocese. This is the story that Spotlight focuses on, as director Tom McCarthy put together this Best Picture winner that not only showed the extremely personal interviews with the victims of the scandal, but also the simple, yet grueling, detective work that went into putting the opening expose together. Despite pressure from the church, the community, as well as fellow editors and reporters to handle the story a certain way, the titular unit of The Boston Globe stayed the course, with an end result that brought a horrifying truth to the public. Spotlight is one of the best portraits of news at its most personal, as well as its most effective.
4. The Post
In an interesting coincidence, three of our films deal with the Bradlee family of journalists, as Ben Bradlee Jr. was part of The Boston Globe staff in Spotlight's chain of events, while his father ,Ben Bradlee Sr., who was a major figure during two of the most trying investigations in the history of The Washington Post. The first of those two films is Steven Spielberg's The Post, which shows what the D.C. publication went through as both its own investors, and the Nixon White House, put pressure on them to not publish their findings from The Pentagon Papers. But on top of the investigative, and even production processes that go into putting a paper together, this movie shows a reporter vetting and attempting to protect one of his sources. It is a showcase of journalistic integrity, in the face of an era where the business of news was starting to climb to the front seat alongside editorial.
Obsession is something that helps, and hinders, the best journalists. That is wonderfully evident in Robert Graysmith's search for one of the most infamous serial killers in history. David Fincher's Zodiac details the long investigation that political cartoonist-turned-investigative journalist Graysmith undertook, as the Zodiac Killer terrorized San Francisco with a series of murders that were ultimately never solved. While being a reporter is usually vindicated at the end of your typical journalism film, the instances where the answers don't come easy aren't as readily discussed. So leave it to Fincher to take such a story and turn it into a sprawling drama that depicts a monster at work, and the spiraling personal decline of the man intent on catching him.
2. Citizen Kane
When Orson Welles set out to make Citizen Kane, he didn't mean to target any one particular news magnate of his era. Rather, he was inspired by several that he had witnessed in his childhood, and also drew strong influence from William Randolph Hearst: the man who operated in the exact era that this classic film was being made. So not only does the tale of Charles Foster Kane's life operate as a piece that showcases journalists hunting for a mysterious man's elusive story, it's was also the ultimate Op-Ed piece. With his landmark film, Welles showed the world that if a media magnate's ambitions knew no bounds, those very ambitions could hurt a lot of people, and even bring that same empire tumbling down. Both a testament to journalism, and an indictment of the machine that employs it, Citizen Kane is a true classic for a reason.
1. All the President's Men
We end the list in a fashion that actually highlights the way we began, as Ben Bradlee and The Washington Post's story in Steven Spielberg's The Post ends with a hint for what would be the paper's next journalistic challenge against the Nixon White House: the Watergate scandal. Alan J. Pakula's All The President's Men takes the investigative reporting of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, and turns it into a stunning conspiracy thriller. So while the actual detective work in which both Woodward and Bernstein engaged is definitely present, it's told in such a way that the film that resulted is an undeniably entertaining history lesson. Not only does All The President's Men feel like a good follow-up to The Post , it's the sort of film from which Spielberg, and all others who seek to tell the stories of good investigative journalism, obviously seek inspiration.