Film Review – The Post (2017)
In a wave of harmful rhetoric against the press, famed director Steven Spielberg set aside other projects to fast-track a film that he felt had a very important message in today’s political and journalistic climate — The Post. Starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, the film boasts as much star power as you’ll see from a film this Oscar season. The following review will be spoiler free.
Directed By: Steven Spielberg
Written By: Liz Hannah and Josh Singer
After The New York Times begins to release documents that expose a massive cover-up of government secrets surrounding the Vietnam War, members of The Washington Post work to keep up with The Times and publish some findings of their own. However, as they get deeper into their search, the White House bars The Times from publishing anymore information that could tamper with national security. As The Post becomes more entangled in the entire situation, their own journalistic freedom comes into question, leaving Kay Graham (Streep) and Ben Bradlee (Hanks) with some difficult choices that threaten the future of the company.
Whether you like it or not, The Post is an obvious commentary on the Trump presidency — mirroring it with the Nixon presidency during the 1970’s. This fact was further cemented when Steven Spielberg pushed back pre-production of The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara in order to make The Post by the end of 2017. When asked about the decision, Spielberg cited the following:
“When I read the first draft of the script, this wasn’t something that could wait three years or two years — this was a story I felt we needed to tell today.”
As a result, Spielberg jumped onto the project in March of 2017. Word came soon after that Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks were in talks to join Spielberg. Amazingly, Spielberg finished a final cut of the film in early November. For a film with a $50 million budget, that is certainly no small feat.
However, that brings us to the elephant in the room: politics. Hollywood is no stranger to politicizing films and events, and that sentiment has only spread since Donald Trump took office. In fact, The Post is most likely the first of many films that will chastise Trump in the coming years. In combination with the fight against sexual assault that has galvanized many, Hollywood is using its platform for more than just making movies. Regardless of your political leaning, this circumstance is sure to stir the pot and create discussion.
A Solid Look into Investigative Journalism
Rather than focus on the war that created the mess or the court case that decided it, The Post primarily handles the discussion of whether or not to publish a story. This central idea works as an interesting “what if” scenario, placing each audience member into a state of contemplation. With everything that the Washington Post had at stake during the decision of whether or not to run a story detailing years of lies about the Vietnam War, Spielberg makes an emphasis of showing how each choice had its merits. Although you as the viewer may have a clear bias towards one decision, the movie does enough to make each a viable option from a certain perspective.
As this debate progresses, journalists are flying all over town, deciphering thousands of pages, and finding credible sources — all within a crazy timeframe. Obviously, the story that The Post tells is a special case, but Spielberg offers an intriguing look into how journalists handle deadlines and long hours. News is often a cutthroat industry, and the members of The Post have to scratch and claw for every story. Much goes into every newspaper, and many will find that element of the film quite fascinating.
Tom Hanks and Bob Odenkirk Stand Out in Supporting Roles
With that heavy emphasis on investigative journalism is two solid performances from Tom Hanks and Bob Odenkirk.
Hanks is best described as a grizzled veteran that lives and dies for journalism. He talks through his teeth, acting in almost total disregard for authority (or as much as an editor can without getting fired). He is at the forefront of the charge for free speech, hammering home the importance of every victory by the press. In typical Hanks fashion, he’s the most enthralling figure in the film, carrying his brazen personality like a first place trophy. Like the company for which he works, he freely speaks his mind, unconcerned of the consequences.
Odenkirk acts as Hanks’ right-hand man — his ear to the ground. He often gets into harm’s way for the good of a story, tracking down leads until he’s out of options. Providing wit in a story that is 90% conversation, Odenkirk’s personality is fearless — and possibly award-worthy.
The Post is Ultimately a Less than Satisfying Endeavor
Everything about the intentions of The Post is incredibly earnest. Meryl Streep is out of her element as the head of The Washington Post, dealing with a world led by men and close relationships that push her away from the right decision. But, there’s never a correct balance to the discussion of gender equality and journalistic integrity. They’re constantly at odds, wrestling for the spotlight. In the end, neither feels fulfilled.
Spielberg directs the film at a snail’s pace, lacking a sense of urgency that a battle between the government and journalism needs. When you are subjected to constant discussion with limited variation, it becomes unbearable. There are glimmers of that patented Spielberg magic — John Williams’ score begins to swell, adding a personality to it all — but it’s quickly forgotten for less than riveting drama.
The Post begs you to feel for Streep’s tough decision in the lead role. Unfortunately, her character never seems fully invested from an emotional standpoint. Her mental state doesn’t suggest that the choice of whether or not to publish is weighing heavily on her spirit.
It also doesn’t help that The Post‘s themes are painfully obvious. No one has ever accused Spielberg of being a subtle director, but his decision to hang so hard on the film’s messages is baffling. The camera will dolly in on characters as they give rousing speeches for the cause, practically lecturing to the audience. Everything culminates in what is Spielberg’s most cringeworthy final sequence ever put to film.
Everyone involved with the film had great intentions. The Post has a lovely message that will win over many critics and moviegoers. However, obvious themes speak to poor writing and direction, which The Post has in spades.
It might be one of the more well-intentioned movies of 2017, but The Post lacks the engrossing narrative and subtle hand to work as a biting piece of social commentary. The Post has great performances, especially from Tom Hanks and Bob Odenkirk. Even more, it’s production design is nothing short of breathtaking. However, an incredibly slow pace drags any amount of momentum to a halt, leaving the heart of the film on the cutting room floor.
Regardless of politically affiliation, The Post fails to stand on its own as a compelling feature film.
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