As a journalist and a man who just enjoys the truth winning over lies and deceit I found myself truly intrigued by the story that Director Steven Spielberg’s latest offering brought to the big screen. Based on historical events, “The Post” has become an awards season staple for 2018 and now we, the public, finally get a chance to see what it’s all about. Sporting some very talented actors and a compelling story, “The Post” isn’t the most entertaining movie or perfect film through and through, but it has its merits that make it a pretty entertaining thriller all the same. Here is my review of “The Post”.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
“The Post” is a political thriller chronicling The Washington Post’s release of the Pentagon Papers, documents exposing four presidencies worth of lies and deceit that were used to justify the Vietnam War. Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks star as the paper’s owner, Kay Graham, and its editor, Ben Bradlee, respectively with other big names like David Cross, Carrie Coon, Alison Brie, Bob Odenkirk and others playing real life and fictional writers for the “Post” as they come into possession of the extensive report from the man who copied and released the papers, Daniel Ellsberg, played by Matthew Rhys. After The New York Times faces legal action from the Nixon administration for being the first to release information from the papers, the struggling The Washington Post, preparing to become a publicly traded company, has to decide whether or not to challenge the White House and release parts of the papers themselves. The decision draws into question what is right or wrong in the media and whether or not the freedom of the press or the First Amendment should be limited when it comes to government secrets.
While the film has its boring segments, a problem I will get to later in this review, the acting of the ensemble cast that Spielberg brought together for this fascinating tale is absolutely spot on. Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks lead the cast in award nominated roles as The Post’s owner Kay Graham and editor Ben Bradlee whom, through a series of events, find themselves at a crossroads deciding whether or not to expose the truth within the Pentagon Papers. The banter and chemistry between these two legends of the screen is captivating as they start on opposite sides of the issue with two different perspectives before working their way to middle ground. Hanks’ Bradlee is a take-no-prisoners truth warrior while Streep’s Graham is an innocent fish-out-of-water who finds herself in charge of her family company with one of the biggest stories ever printed right at her door and the fate of its publicly traded existence on the line. They’re two very different people who never truly clash nor do they ever truly agree. They’re co-workers before friends and they both want the truth, but they have different takes on how much the truth is worth.
This dynamic, combined with the excellent supporting cast, makes for a truly engaging story in more ways than one. “The Post” proves to be not only a worthy story of real life events, but a symbolic defense of the media and the right of free press that, in today’s day and age, is a pretty appropriate one. Even the smallest part in this film seems to be injected with energy and conviction which makes the story easy to embrace and respect even at its driest moments. The cast is what really makes this film a journey worth taking because in lesser hands with a lesser cast this probably would have been one of the driest films Hollywood ever churned out.
Steven Spielberg, being the legend he is behind the camera, knows how to make a film work regardless of its context. However he did have his work cut out for him with “The Post” as the story really needed great guidance, script management, and acting quality to come to life properly. Spielberg handles the story with respect and considering that he reportedly fell in love with the screenplay immediately we all knew this was a story he wanted to tell. Thankfully it feels like Spielberg had his heart really invested in making “The Post” a thrilling and captivating drama. Even still Spielberg did lean on some interesting camerawork and cinematography choices to enhance the mood of some of his scenes which felt a bit unwarranted given that the actors on screen did a fine job projecting the mood and tone of the film all the way through. Spielberg didn’t have to work too hard to make “The Post” work but at times it does seem like he took some liberties to have fun with angles and camera movement that doesn’t take away from the experience, but doesn’t feel completely warranted either. Overall it’s not his best work, but even Spielberg’s imperfect work is beyond the realm of possibility for some of the most seasoned directors. “The Post” is no different. It’s a very good Spielberg film, but not his best.
I actually enjoyed the story “The Post” had to offer. I felt it was timely, interesting, and handled with care so as not to be heavy handed but also to remain significant and meaningful all the way through. With a strong cast and talented director on hand, this film takes on a historical battle between the press and the White House at a time where a similar battle is occurring in real life and brings it front and center when it needed to be seen. Similar to 2017’s “Detroit”, “The Post”, intentionally or unintentionally, takes advantage of current events to make its historical events even more relatable and fascinating without directly tying it into today. This feels like a modern story but it’s very securely set in its own time period making it one of those historical films that manages to be both relevant and educational at the same time.
The film is also surprisingly honest. It doesn’t glorify the journalists of “The Washington Post” and it doesn’t completely vilify the officials trying to hide the Pentagon Papers either. There’s a sense of humanity about it as we experience a story detailing the struggle personal relationships can create when the truth is exposed. We feel for each character on the screen, whether it’s Ben Bradlee’s struggle to tell the truth to the world or Defense Secretary Robert McNamara (played by Bruce Greenwood) trying to keep the papers under wraps while also understanding the responsibility of the press. As a journalist myself I guess I might have found this story a lot more relatable than others, but personally it felt like “The Post” was a worthy screenplay that squeezed much more out of its pretty simple story than anyone would probably expect.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
I have to be honest that “The Post” can be pretty boring and that, to me, was its biggest detriment. While the story was gripping as a whole the entire second act drags on and at times it can be a struggle to stay attentive or even understand fully what’s going on until everything comes around later on down the road. There’s a lot that happens in this movie and throughout the first and third segments of the film those events are pretty engaging, but the middle segment of the film feels drawn out, dry, and lacking of the same energy that the rest of the project embraced so well.
If you can stay glued to the screen and get past its drier parts, “The Post” is very watchable. But if you can’t keep yourself engaged the movie doesn’t do a lot to help you on that front. You have to want to enjoy this story in order to appreciate it fully so if “The Post” doesn’t look interesting to you I don’t recommend giving it a try because you’ll probably check out halfway through. As gripping as the story can be on its own most of the time, it lacks a consistent pace and tone that can make it difficult to bare unless your prepared for what’s to come.
I did very much enjoy “The Post”. I guess I didn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to, but my background alone made the story interesting and worth the watch. Despite its drier moments that can be a major turnoff for anyone not prepared for the experience this film packs some very good direction and intense and committed acting that brings it to a level it maybe didn’t deserve to reach. A lot of times the director and the actor can save a film and while “The Post” is a timely and appropriate offering that covers a controversy the nation deserves to understand, it required the talent on screen and behind the camera as well as a very good script to make it what it is. If you want a thought provoking and interesting historical thriller this is top notch, but if you’re unable to stay attentive through the dryer moments of movies of this type this might be one worth passing on. It’s not perfect, but “The Post” is still typical Spielberg movie magic all the same.