Is The Post just another Oscar-hopeful historical drama, or is it something that has a purpose and a meaning that is more than just furthering the careers of those involved?
The Post feels like the type of movie that, years ago, would be much hyped and everyone would be talking about. Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep….those are BIG names attached to any movie, let alone the same movie. However, as the industry has embraced both smaller films and bigger films, there seems to be less enthusiasm for anything ending up in the middle, which in this day and age is how I would define a film such as this. If an up-and coming filmmaker is not cutting their teeth or else trying something experimental or exploratory, our movies tend to be big, brash profit searching entities. The Post is neither, which makes it feel a little less interesting against today’s film landscape than it should be.
Maybe it feels this way because of our sudden animosity towards movie critics, the Hollywood elite, and those glamorous award ceremonies that happen to tie both of those things together. If we succumb ourselves to such ways of thinking, The Post is a by-the-numbers approach to movie making and a clear case of Oscar-baiting (a recent disdain for the media among certain circles could only add fire to that sentiment). High caliber and successful veteran director at the helm? Check. Interesting story from recent history that many people may not be aware of? Check. A-list cast full of actors who have accomplished extraordinary things in their careers? Check. Some of us are overlooking The Post simply because it fits a type of mold against which popular opinions have recently soured.
But those who may have written off The Post because of these reasons are ultimately missing out. Not only is The Post a perfectly interesting and well-made film, it does actually deserve all the Oscar nominations it has received (and creates disappointment for a few that it didn’t receive). Actually, it’s biggest drawback may be the fact that it is unsurprisingly great. All of the criteria against which people may judge this film before watching it are the criterion which allow the film to find success.
Take Steven Spielberg, for example. He is part of the establishment, but that’s because he’s one of the filmmakers who has a major impact on the course of film history over the last few decades. Despite the variation in types of projects he has been involved in, there has been a consistency in his talent and creativity behind the camera. That dexterity, if you will, allows for a exciting movie watching experience in The Post. Although it is a historical drama, Spielberg prevents the film from becoming a history lesson. He manages to keep it on track in a way that is relevant to today’s harsh political and socioeconomic climate.
The Post opens amidst the Vietnam War where a military analyst comes to the conclusion that the war is unwinnable. The US Government seems to be in agreement, but in order to save face, the conflict rages on. Upset with the government’s two-faced approach to the situation, the analyst leaks confidential information to the New York post which details the harsh realities and suspect circumstances which started the conflict. This sets up a situation where the media is outspoken against the government - sound familiar? Meanwhile, at the Washington Post, Katherine Graham inherits the company upon the death of her husband and looks towards a public offering to help raise the money needed to maintain the business moving forward. When the government threatens to sue the New York Post for printing these Vietnam documents, an opportunity presents itself to the Washington Post to continue the crusade. Katherine must decide if she is willing to risk her business’ bright future for the sake of the American Democracy.
You might be tempted into thinking that The Post is not worth your time simply because it treads on familiar water. The events depicted in this film lead directly into All The President’s Men, a well-loved retelling of a dark time in American politics. Also, the idea of watching a bunch of journalists on the cusp of breaking a highly controversial story is something we’ve seen recently in the Best Picture-winning Spotlight. But don’t get fooled into thinking it is just a redux of those two famous films. Spielberg deserves a lot of credit for creating something that IS familiar, but different too.
The Post focuses more on running a newspaper than writing for it. As difficult as the job is to create and write about the news, it is equally difficult to decide how to run a business where the best product often comes at the expense of others’ good fortunes. On top of the day to day operations of deciding what news should be printed, there are external influences trying to obtain good press for themselves, the challenges of running a profitable enterprise, and of course the pressure to maintain journalistic integrity for the benefit of an entire country. Thrust into all of these difficulties, Graham is an unlikely leader. She frequently looks to her all-male advisors to make the decisions, and they all but resign her to the position of an inconspicuous figurehead.
Portraying Graham, the great Meryl Streep fidgets her way to another excellent performance. Only in social situations where she is the gracious host or courteous friend does Streep’s Graham become confident. Otherwise, she is unsure, stuttering, and perhaps unwilling to deal with the burden that has been placed upon her. Yet, she realizes the importance of her position and the decision that must be made. Graham is a woman put in a difficult position, and she shows incredible strength and bravery in that predicament. There are men in this movie too. Men like, executive editor Ben Bradlee, portrayed by Tom Hanks. Hanks is lovable in film by default, but like Streep, the performance comes in a way that is somewhat unexpected. Bradlee is a straight talker, and his energy and total devotion to the job can be off putting at times. We’re not used to a Tom Hanks character being threatening. Yet, the film does a great job of explaining the reasons for his behavior, and once that motivation is realized, the audience finds Hanks’ Bradlee a character easy to stand behind.
And while the performances in this film are well worth the price of admission, I still turn back to the impeccable job by Steven Spielberg. For one, there is a lot going on in this film, but it never feels too rushed or complicated. Spielberg finds the right pace to keep the film exciting while the script allots an appropriate amount of screentime to each chapter of this story - not an easy fete for any historical retelling. Spielberg also manages to center the film around Graham and focus on her as a strong woman character. Even though she doesn’t have the most screen time, and other women characters are few and far between, the films comes off as empowering. Spielberg’s accomplishment here is such that even if we (let’s be honest, accurately) constrain The Post to a mold, there’s enough proficiency and interesting work being done inside that mold to make it a wonderful experience. Don’t miss out on this one.