The Post (2018)
Written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer
Directed by Steven Spielberg
In 1971, portions of a U.S. government commissioned classified report on their involvement in Indochina were sent to the New York Times. The Times was the first outlet to publish an article on the content which led to the Nixon White House slapping them with an injunction. Meanwhile, another portion of the document was dropped on a desk in the newsroom of the Washington Post. Editor-in-Chief Ben Bradlee sees this as the Post’s moment to move from a local D.C. paper to a national force in the news. Owner Katharine Graham is hesitant when she finds out, being told this could damage the legacy of her family. The Post has just gone public on Wall Street, and the board of directors fears massive damage financially. Graham is also a lifelong friend of people who will be implicated in flawed U.S. foreign policy like Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara. She must make a decision about what to do next and deal with the repercussions that result.
I am always leery of biopic/historical films because I take the stance that the documentary is the preferred form rather than narrative. Years ago I had watched The Most Dangerous Man in America about Daniel Ellsberg, the former advisor who copied and distributed the Pentagon Papers so I had an understanding of the event from his perspective. The point of the view of the Post and particularly Katharine Graham’s role in what transpired were new to me. Meryl Streep is most definitely the high point of the film, giving a performance full of little subtleties and nuance. When she has an excellent role to work with she is able to remind us why her name is associated with pinnacle acting.
Bob Odenkirk as Ben Bagdikian, the Post’s direct contact with Ellsberg gives a performance that continues to confirm his place as one of this generation’s great supporting/character actors. The film also acts an as unofficial Mr. Show reunion, as Odenkirk’s old comedy partner David Cross shows up in a supporting role as another Post reporter. Tom Hanks does a fine job, though his Boston accent fades in and out from scene to scene. I can’t say I know much about Bradlee’s personality in real life, but Hanks is sure shooting for the generic gruff news boss rather than a unique character.
We can’t forget this is a Steven Spielberg picture and as a result, its themes are made crystal clear, often spelling out in way too blunt exposition. The commentary on women in positions of power is made incredibly overt, and they are great sentiments, I just wish there had been restraint and a more delicate touch in communicating these to the audience. There are some lines of dialogue that might as well be stating this film was made as a response to President Trump’s gross vilification of the media. While I agree down the line with the wrongheadedness of the stance, Spielberg is once again way too obvious with this point. I think I prefer documentary for these sorts of stories because being overt with themes is part of that form, while in narrative cinema I enjoy searching out the more substantial ideas.
The Post is a very satisfying and clear film. The plot stays on a single track and delivers a reasonably accurate recounting of a crucial moment in our country’s history. The final scene, the Watergate break-in, lends The Post to serve as a prequel to All The President’s Men. However, Alan J. Pakula wielded a much more delicate hand in his story-telling than Mr. Spielberg.