Spielberg tries his hand at being Alan J. Pakula with The Post to solid results. As an ode to the importance and relevance of journalism, especially as a safeguard against a governance unchecked, it sidles itself near 2015’s superior Spotlight and feels as authentically staged as All The President’s Men. Engrossing, if a little showy.
There’s a fair few comparisons that can be made between this and Joe Wright’s same day release of Darkest Hour. Both deal with pivotal moments in global history and both find the breadth of their drama in the words and not actions. Set almost entirely in newsrooms, houses, and hallways, The Post is never hindered in its claustrophobic surrounds, instead cinematographer (and long time collaborator with Spielberg) Janusz Kaminski keeps the camera as kinetic and, quite often, handheld as he can to assist in driving this story.
It’s 1966. The Vietnam War is being waged and, high in the sky aboard Air Force One, disgruntled soldier and Department of Defene officer Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) is called upon by Secretary of Defense William McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) to make comment on how the war is going. He sugarcoats his response, which is interpreted by the SoD as poorly – a viewpoint they both share – and conversation is not repeated. When the plane lands and the SoD is accosted by the press, he backflips and says the war effort is making great progress. Jaded by this, Ellsberg sets about leaking a 4,000+ page dossier, soon to be known as The Pentagon Papers, which is a highly classified document that forensically illustrates the U.S. Government’s lies and deception with their involvement in the Vietnam War. A task that would take some 5 years to complete.
Flash forward to 1971 Washington. Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) is the inherited owner of The Washington Post, a smaller publication that’s about to float itself publicly for the first time in its history. Her chief Editor Ben Bradley (Tom Hanks) is a dogged newshound from the days of old. When he catches wind that the New York Post has ‘something’ he sends an intern to find out what the deal is. In the meantime Kay is a wealthy socialite and has many political connections, one of them being WIlliam McNamara, whom approaches her on the quiet to suggest that a story about him is about to be published…
Seemingly scooped by the New York Post when the first inflammatory story gets published, the ensuing public outcry and Government response sends Bradley and his team of investigative journalists on a race against time and the establishment to find the papers and publish them for the world to see.
Working from a script by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, The Post marks 71 year old Spielberg’s 53rd feature and showcases that he can still frame a ripping and focused yarn. He’s a quick shooter of scenes, relying heavily on the clydesdale level of thoroughbred talent he has at his disposal to drive the action. And drive it they do.
The Post motors along its thrift 116 minute runtime as if it, too, has a deadline to meet. Aiding Hanks and Streep is the almost show stealing and ever reliable Bob Odenkirk as a grizzled stablehand journo and Jesse Plemons makes a welcome appearance as a newly hired lawyer.
That’s not to say The Post doesn’t feature some of the Spielbergian trappings that cloy instead of land – it most certainly does. The entire opening war scene is entirely unnecessary, this could’ve been done with a plate card of bullet point information.
Some of the rhetoric and exchanges do feel preachy and forcefully pontificating. Yes, we know this is a message film, but the ramming of values of the American democracy down one’s throat in a pivotal scene jars rather than emboldens. As does some cloyingly stagey mother/daughter scenes which feel like they belong in a different film entirely.
Same can be said for a completely pointless post script (that acts like it is setting up a sequel) that you’ll no doubt see coming a mile off yet bears no reflection or purpose in this film suffice to link it to the next monumental moment in U.S. political history.
Armed with solid performances, an efficient and energetic pacing, and an overarching flag for the importance of journalism, The Post is an engrossing and entertaining thrill ride with a couple of bumps on the way…
THE POST is in CINEMAS NOW!