Set in early 1970s America against the backdrop of a Vietnam War, The Post offers us a nostalgic yet highly topical look at the Washington Post’s tough decision to publish the Pentagon Papers – classified documents detailing the 30-year involvement of the USA in the Vietnam War.
With The Post being released only a year after The BFG and only a few months before this summer’s Ready Player One, it’s clear why Spielberg chose to make this film when he did. In our current era of “fake news”, the film certainly points a finger at Trump, both as a critique of his administration and a demonstration to the audience of the importance of the American media.
The first thing The Post has in its favour is its two acting juggernauts that carry the film from the beginning. Meryl Streep plays Kay Graham, the first female publisher of a major American newspaper, alongside Tom Hanks as executive editor Ben Bradlee. The supporting cast works well off these two, with Bob Odenkirk being a standout here. While certainly not the best of the year, The Post has the Academy Awards in mind, both in terms of performances and screenplay.
The film begins with the Washington Post becoming public, suddenly obliged to take the interest of shareholders into account in order to strengthen the paper’s economic stability. The first act of the film gets off to a relatively slow start with Meryl Streep’s Kay Graham feeling conflicted about the paper’s IPO as well as coming at odds with chauvinistic board members who doubt her ability to run the paper effectively.
As usual, Meryl Streep is at her best, effectively demonstrating the inner conflict Graham faces, knowing exactly when to balance moments of vulnerability with moments of empowerment. It’s a subtle performance, but certainly a memorable one.
“The film balances the conflict of the media.”
The film kicks into gear as soon as they receive a box of 3000 pages detailing the extensive involvement of the USA in the Vietnam War and the Washington Post is faced with the dilemma of whether or not to publish these history-altering documents.
The film balances the conflict of the media against the Nixon administration effectively with the internal conflict within the Washington Post allowing for driven narrative packed with great grand speeches, energetic montages and the occasional moment of genuine excitement.
Tom Hanks shines as usual here, bringing every ounce of charm and charisma he has to the role of Ben Bradlee – a seasoned and determined journalist who is willing to publish the big story even if it means indictment. Hanks believes in journalistic integrity over all else, which nicely juxtaposes Kay Graham’s growing concern for the future of the paper. The Post shines when we see these two bounce off each other posing the question of what the media’s duty to its nation is and what it means to be a journalist.
Spielberg consistently manages to portray the newspaper print industry with a sense of excitement and adventure through the 2-hour runtime. The John Williams score swells amidst the sea of mashing typewriters, the clicking of dial phones and the flapping of paper.
There’s a real physicality to each scene as we see how much actual manual effort goes into each paper being printed. Especially in its third act, there is a sense of urgency to every scene as if every second is precious with journalists marching through office hallways, shouting over the phone, manically typing articles and the meeting is tinged with tension. For a film mostly set in an office, it can all be very exciting stuff.
“It seems to rush towards its own ending.”
The film builds up to the inevitable publishing of the Pentagon papers well, however, when it reaches its climax and the film begins to hit its stride, it seems to rush towards its own ending. It all builds towards a certain courtroom scene that decides the fate of our characters only for it to end within a few minutes. In typical Spielberg fashion, its closing moments begin to border on cheesy, which unfortunately comes at the expense of dramatic moments.
There’s a lot to like in The Post, however, it feels like Spielberg has played it safe here, making a by-the-numbers journalism biopic just in time for the Oscars. There are certainly similarities with 2015’s journalist drama Spotlight but certainly does not carry the same dramatic heft.
While the film is topical, informative and can sometimes be exciting, it lacks any truly memorable moments which is unfortunate for a film set in such a significant period of history. Although this is not Spielberg at his greatest, he certainly gets the best performances from his impressive cast which alleviates the film from becoming another generic Oscar-bait biopic.
Media courtesy of Amblin Entertainment, and Dreamworks.