Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, Government secrets, a scandalous true story and indomitable journalism.
You could easily think this Pentagon Papers retrospective is a lock for Best Picture. It isn’t.
The Post, based on the titular Washington paper’s unearthing of the extent of successive U.S. Administrations’ intervention in South East Asia and the fallout faced by Publisher Kay Graham (Streep) and Editor Ben Bradlee (Hanks) should the decision be made to publish, desperately wants to have you on the edge of your seat.
For stretches it no doubt does, with Streep and Hanks among a talented cast including Bob Odenkirk, Jesse Plemons, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Sarah Paulson, Michael Stuhlbarg and Alison Brie who collectively turn frequently engaging material into a duly compelling battle of wills. Streep, her casting itself an aspect of The Post’s heavily politicized narrative, is the foremost amongst a cavalcade of empathetic and roundly intriguing figures; her reliably excellent and latest performance being far from overrated.
A film that has already and no doubt will continue to draw comparisons to the likes of Spotlight and All The President’s Men, The Post, as much as it wants to tell a story evidently supremely suited to the then experience of competitor The New York Times (which features sparingly in spite of its hugely consequential role in events), is, unlike these features, a drama, not a thriller.
Less concerned with the depiction of journalistic rigour and process that forms only a part of the on screen narrative, The Post effectively centres around one decision by one person and the Publisher, facing a financial upheaval at the company and a Government hell-bent on ensuring the papers never see the light of day, coming to terms with the implications of the decision.
For those bearing an interest in the subject matter or journalists themselves, who together will inevitably form a significant part of the audience for this film, the denouement will no doubt be easily recollectable and unsurprising, as it will be to those duly attentive to the tone and tenor of Spielberg’s latest. This leads throughout to a series of involving though not unrepetitive, dialogue-heavy sequences where the responsibilities of those most concerned, together with the controversial documents, are unpacked, prioritised and very explicitly labelled.
As interested in making heavily implicit criticisms of the current US Administration as it is in celebrating the mettle of the journalists involved who insist on publishing, dramatic proceedings almost grind to a halt during pointedly chosen re-enactments of President Nixon’s intendedly familiar shots at the fourth estate stalwart, or otherwise when characters loudly expound on the virtues of the profession and their intended actions.
The Post would have done a great deal better had it tempered the literal evocations of it’s clear philosophical bent; the film’s far and above most powerful moment, conversely taking place in complete silence, coming towards its end when a number of onlookers keenly follow Graham’s footsteps as she makes her way through a crowd.
A good drama nonetheless in great debt to its on screen flag bearers and an at times greatly edifying film for those enamoured with its subjects, The Post, more akin in tone and style to the Spielberg/Hanks-helmed Bridge of Spies than its own thematic predecessors, has a lot going for it, even if it’s never nearly as compelling as its own true story.
The Post is in cinemas from January 11