Dir. Steven Spielberg
Starring: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Carrie Coon, Alison Brie, David Cross, Sarah Paulson, and Jesse Plemons.
Spielberg. Streep. Hanks. Three of the biggest names in film. Teaming up together for the first time. You’re already expecting a quality film, filled with importance, and gravitas. I’m first in line for every new Spielberg film. The idea of this master craftsman directing two of the greatest actors of our generation is enough to send anyone’s expectations sky high. Spielberg makes two types of movies these days: family blockbuster, and historically important dramas. For every Jurassic Park there is a Schindler’s List, for every BFG there is a Lincoln, and this year we have Ready Player One and The Post. An important historical drama that can come across too much like an intellectual exercise.
The film follows Kay Graham, owner of The Post, and Ben Bradlee, The Post’s editor. Kay, played by Streep, is a woman battling for respect in a mans world. She’s in the middle of turning The Post into a public company, whilst still retaining her families control. This will all go smoothly unless a crisis puts the sale in jeopardy. This crisis appears in the form of the Pentagon Papers. A government report on the Vietnam war, which if released would have turned the American people against their involvement in the war, perhaps ending the war six years earlier. The New York Times publishes these papers, but are soon shut down by the Nixon administration. When the papers are obtained by The Washington Post, Graham finds herself caught between the future of her company, and Tom Hanks’ Ben Bradlee’s desire to publish the papers in order to hold the government accountable.
The film is a fantastic study of shifting power dynamics. Whether it’s between the government and the people, those with the moral high ground and those without it, or between men and women. The setting of the film may be the struggle to publish the papers, but the heart of the film is Kay Graham’s struggle as a woman in a mans world. Spielberg directs these scenes with a fierce intelligence. Nothing is coincidental. Take the scene where Graham arrives at Wall Street, as she climbs the stairs past a group of women to reach the top and a room full of men, which is perfectly mirrored near the end of the movie. Or the scenes between Bradlee and Graham where the camera suddenly goes high, pointing down at Streep, making her look small in the frame, and how the camera slowly lowers as she fights back, turning the two of them into equals. This is a director at the top of his craft.
The sublime ensemble cast are all fantastic too, with Better Call Saul’s Bob Odenkirk emerging as a real standout next to the heavy hitters of Hanks and Streep. The film is at its most fun when following Odenkirk, a reporter on the search for the Pentagon Papers. During these moments, where the film is a journalistic thriller along the lines of All The Presidents Men, is when the film really starts to flourish. It’s thrilling, entertaining, and fun. Spielberg wrings the minutiae of reporting, and publishing a newspaper for all the tension it’s worth. When in the newsroom his camera never stops for breath, constantly moving and swirling around the corridors and offices. It throws the audience directly into the situation.
It’s a superbly well made film, but somehow manages to feel unsatisfying. Like having the greatest chef in the world and the best ingredients, but finding your meal has been undercooked. After a great prologue, the film suffers a dull half hour, incredibly heavy with exposition. It’s all important stuff, but the delivery is far from compelling. The film also has some pacing issues, slowing down whenever Streep is on the screen. Streep is her usual fantastic self, but the way Spielberg tells her part of the story comes across as too much of an intellectual exercise, both for the director and the audience. It robs the films climax of the emotional heft it should have had.
Superbly acted. Well made. Entertaining in parts. Spielberg’s The Post is a fascinating story with some real parallels with the modern world. It’s a shame that it too often comes across as an exercise in making a good film rather than being great one.