I personally love a good newspaper movie. I don’t know what it is about a group of Journalists running around in an office, dressed in ties, constantly asking the question, “should we publish it?” that I find so thrilling? Whatever the case may be, the latest film about a newspaper is Steven Spielberg’s rushed into production film, The Post. The Post is a movie that Spielberg cared so deeply about and found so important that he managed to make the movie in a quick 6-month time span.
The Post is in this regard incredibly impressive. The Post in any other regard is still a very well done movie. While this isn’t going to rise to the top of Spielberg’s filmography by any means, The Post is a well-acted and a mostly well-told story of the Washington Post’s battle to publish “the Pentagon Papers”. All with the President of the United States bearing down his full power to try and stop it.
The material covered in The Post is no doubt important and Spielberg’s keen voice and eye for bringing his viewpoint to life is always done with poise. It is clear the respect and admiration Spielberg has for journalists. His delicate soft guiding hand brings forth that respect through every moment of the movie. And, like All the President’s Men, brought forth a film about the power of the press against a powerful government, The Post relishes in those same exact themes. In many ways, this almost serves as a perfect un-official prequel or companion piece to All the Presidents Men (you could even probably splice these two films together).
The Post also explores the relationships journalists have to elected officials and the bias that can come with it. Stories like this always timely and needed, no matter who is in elected office, it serves as a reminder of the standards that our media should be operating at.
At the front of this movie are two powerhouse actors, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. Amongst the greatest actors of all time, these two bring forth a powerful sense of age and maturity. They feel right at home in the time period they are portraying. Streep’s Kay Graham is surprisingly meek and lacks the confidence to put herself forward in a male-dominated world. Her arc is the most prominent of the film and Streep gives a wonderful performance (I don’t believe she should be nominated for Best Actress but that’s a topic for a different article).
Hanks’s Ben Bradlee is a harden, no nonsenses, gonna get the job done the type of guy. Hanks has a commanding presence and the two actors together are terrific to watch battle it out with each other. Spielberg is wise though to never make Kay Graham or Ben Bradlee be flawless do-gooders, part of their journey together is becoming aware of what they are guilty of, the stories they didn’t run for political or personal reasons. It would be easy for Spielberg to cast these two as perfect individuals but he resists that temptation, giving a healthy amount of characterization.
However, given the widely publicized turnaround time for this film, it is easy to understand why the movie is not completely refined. The first act of The Post lacks a significant amount of urgency. Some might argue this simply needed to set up the story but it feels more meandering rather than Spielberg setting up his moves like the seasoned chess player he is. Also, the scenes involving Kay Graham and her daughter drag the pacing of the film down and feel rather like an afterthought. There is also a feeling of missed opportunity for Spielberg to really hammer home some of the key themes in the third act (especially in the courtroom scene that seemingly ends before it begins). Perhaps if Spielberg had taken a little more time with this production some of the issues of the movie could have been ironed out.
Luckily once we get out of the first act, The Post fires and zips along with great urgency, excitement, and suspense. Any historical movie that can manage to get you on the edge of your seat, even if you know the actual outcome, is doing something right. The movie moves at a breakneck speed as snap decisions need to made about the Pentagon Papers, who has them, can they be published legally? Doesn’t exactly sound like the stuff thrillers are made of but this movie makes all of that thrilling.
The Post is a really well done historical movie that falls just short of greatness. I don’t believe this as well made as Todd McCarthy’s recent investigative journalist movie Spotlight (my favorite film of 2015) but I do think it far surpasses some other recent historical films that Spielberg has made such as Bridge of Spies. This movie won’t join the ranks of the greatest Spielberg films but it will exist in that second tier of Spielberg films that are home to movies like War Horse and Catch Me If You Can and you can’t go wrong with that.