Admittedly, I had my reservations about The Post, and they came from a good place. For a film about journalism, The Post is reasonably entertaining, driven by pros behind the camera (Spielberg) and great performances (looking at you, Tom Hanks). Surface level, this is another one of Spielberg’s portraits of a benevolent capitalist that stumbles into doing the right thing, but deep down it is nothing more than a Public Service Announcement dressed up as a nostalgic newspaper drama-that makes you yearn for just a little no no-nonsense detachment, and that is why everyone has loved the film and thinks that it deserves credit for it’s particular relevance in the “Fake News” era of government-media relations. But at times the film struggles to say what it wants without awkward messaging and the execution of the film and its message(s) leaves something to be desired because it tells more than one story at once, or at least it tries to, but admittedly falls flat. There are several interesting ideas present in their chosen angles— a woman’s struggle to find her confidence and voice in a high-power position in a field (and world) dominated by men; a mother and wife’s difficulty grappling with a legacy she was suddenly placed in charge of; the dangers of silencing news media and the fights that must be undertaken to preserve integrity in reporting; the ways in which presidential overreach harms the American people and how to combat it. Even in the experienced hands of Spielberg, it seemed like the film took off more than it could chew. For example, it was thuddingly obvious that it reduced a key story about a woman in man’s world to a scene in which that woman, portrayed by Meryl Streep, walks down the Supreme Court steps as a row of young women stare at her in awe. So on that note, for a film receiving so much praise for its “feminist” themes, its awfully male dominated and the one strong female lead is weirdly backgrounded.
In the end, the film’s message seemed a bit heavy-handed. Putting aside great performances and the thrill of Spielberg’s directing, the film was laughably self-important. It’s interesting that certain arthouse films are criticized for being pretentious when a conventional film like this, one that takes no risks, imbues itself with an even bigger air of self-importance. I mean, the film was not edgy at all. The writing was stale and boring. Take Aaron Sorkin’s, The West Wing, squeeze out the story about the Pentagon Papers and you have the script for The Post. This is clearly a reactionary piece with Spielberg wanting to fire on all cylinders and wanting to comment on every relevant social and/or political issue. The script is so plainly cobbled together and unrefined in order to quickly respond to political climate today. And you can tell by it’s lightly comedic notes and sense of urgency in it’s call. In the end I felt that it is equivalent of comfort food for the hysterical people that unironically calls themselves part of a rebellion. Spielberg, talent aside, re-packaged a certain set of events of history and presented it in time for award season, and it is unfortunate for both him and the potential of the film that was hindered by rushed storytelling.
That being said, the well-assembled and hugely talented cast is the only thing that makes The Post worth watching, but even that has issues. The all-around talented cast was infected and distracted with the same thing that the rest of the film observed, and that is the desire to educate. Tom Hanks, who in the film champions freedom of the press above all else, gave an Oscar nomination-worthy performance, and Meryl Streep gives an emotional, yet at times an underwhelming, performance as a woman facing the difficult decisions of whether or not to publish classified government papers. More often than not she inhabited the drama rather than floating above it, but even then her performance didn’t come close to her performances in two of my favorite Streep films, August: Osage County or The Bridges of Madison County. Her presence offered a refreshing aspect in seeing Spielberg work with a female protagonist, but she was still significantly underused and that contributed to this being one of her weaker performances, having more to do with writing and directing than it does with Streep herself. The past year has offered up so many special films from directors and writers who bring a unique voice to cinema, and it’s unfortunate that Spielberg, someone who time and time again has told stories in such incredible and imaginative ways, hasn’t followed suit and continued the innovative ring in cinema. So, to reiterate, The Post is worth the watch for it’s cast and classic Spielberg directing, and does a serviceable job at functioning as a conversation starter, but is truthfully just average and wildly underwhelming.