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Oscar-nominated Steven Spielberg historical drama starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep (in an Academy Award-nominated performance) as the editor and publisher of the Washington Post. The pair wrestle with the decision as to whether they should publish classified documents exposing US government lies about the Vietnam War - a leak that would come to be known as the Pentagon Papers.
Drama, Thriller, True Story & Biography, Historical
Rating: M Offensive language
Timely in many ways, almost quaint in others, Steven Spielberg’s media drama The Post flirts with weighty issues, only some of which prove relevant in this attempted throwback to, and chronological precursor of, classic political reportage thriller All the President’s Men. As publisher and editor of the Washington Post, Streep and Hanks grapple here with the issue of whether to publish classified material about the Vietnam War leaked by Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys, TV's The Americans).
That was more of a dilemma in 1971 than it would be today, due to the cosiness between the military-industrial complex, political class, and high society media owners. Not to mention the fact that the Pentagon Papers, as they came to be known, showed the US Government was lying - lying! - to its citizens.
Heroic and historic as the events depicted here may be, it’s hard to escape the sense of cynicism today’s audiences will have: “of course governments lie!”. And Ellsberg’s actions have been arguably eclipsed by that of Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning in the modern era.
Still, there are some thrills in seeing media organisations stand up to the might of the state, especially at a time when the current POTUS tries to quell dissent in direct opposition to the legal rulings handed down in this very film.
As the film’s tone veers back and forth between borderline TV movie and gripping drama, it’s propelled by powerful turns from leads Streep and Hanks. At times they serve up too much capital-A actoring when opposite one another, seemingly used to acting their co-stars off the screen, and finding themselves unloading their full ammo simultaneously here, like two warships emptying their armories on one another at close range.
They fall into their roles as the film progresses, and particularly as it accelerates in its third act - Hanks displaying a dogged determination, Streep shining in a feminist transformation as her formerly meek character stops deferring to the wills of male “advisers” and begins to truly assert herself.
The pair are surrounded with a robust supporting cast, who provide Spielberg strong assistance in bringing both newsroom and boardroom dealings to 70s life - particularly Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Carrie Coon, and Bruce Greenwood as Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.
The Post doesn’t quite gel though - perhaps it’s a bit of over-earnestness, or a feeling of outdatedness as it looks back longingly on the era of physical newspapers. Still, it’s a watchable, if not enthralling, account of important events, and some notions that are perhaps more important today than they even were forty-something years ago.
Stuff.co.nz (James Croot)
With 'Spotlight' serving as the only insight into the workings of a modern day American newspaper press (newspaper press period), it's safe to say that this viewer was enlightened on many of the comings and goings of such an establishment. It definitely helps to know a little about American history going in to this drama which does its best to set the scene and intricately explain the background. Even so, the first act is admittedly a little on the boring side. However, the steady crescendo leading up to the big 'decision' (whether to publish or not to) is engaging and evokes some of the best moments of 'Spotlight'. The differences between the two are clearly (a) the subject matter and (b) the time. It's unclear what exactly encumbers the telling of the story.
Three stars: Hanks, Streep & Spielberg
Much like his Tom Hanks starring movie, Bridge of Spies, Steven Spielberg’s The Post feels like a worthy historical drama designed to be just that – a worthy historical drama. Hitting all the right liberal beats but failing to totally engage, interesting whilst never too insightful, well-executed but hardly exciting.
Tom Hanks plays the editor of The Washington Post, and Meryl Streep the paper’s publisher, in a drama centred on the “should we or shouldn’t we” question of publishing the Pentagon Papers - classified US government documents revealing the lies told about the Vietnam War.
The script, by Josh Singer and Liz Hannah, and Spielberg’s direction, are restrained, recalling older Hollywood dramatic fare, where character and conversation were to the fore. Think Sidney Lumet’s Twelve Angry Men (1957), or Fail Safe (1964). But the largest shadow cast over The Post is Alan J. Pakula’s All the President’s Men (1976). Heck, there’s even a shot of a poster for the William Goldman scripted, Robert Redford starring, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid in the first 5-minutes by way of knowing nod.
Still, the early 1970s period is expertly portrayed, and the actors assembled by Spielberg are superb, from Hanks and Streep as the leads, through a supporting cast featuring the likes of Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons, David Cross, Matthew Rhys and Alison Brie.
Expertly crafted and performed, The Post is never dull, but feels like a movie from a different era. A slow, thoughtful, procedural drama all about the moral philosophising and earnest hand-wringing of white, middle-class intellectuals of the 1970s debating what freedom of the press entails.
Yes, it’s relevant in many ways to our modern post Edward Snowden and Wikileaks age, in which Trumpist squeals of “Fake news!” and right-wing media and tabloid entertainment threaten old school journalism, but at times rather than subtly hinting at these parallels, The Post clubs its audience over the head with its righteous indignation. Fans of heavy hitting drama, and of Streep and Hanks in particular, won’t be disappointed, but if like me you felt Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies was more worthy than wonderful, you’ll likely feel the same again about his latest.
That said, mediocre Spielberg is still head and shoulders above most other Hollywood fare, so see it if only to admire the talent on display in every aspect of film-making, from cinematography, to lighting, acting, costumes, design, score and sound.
A solid drama, with great acting from an all-star cast.