Steven Spielberg’s new drama focuses on the Nixon administrations reaction to the release of the Pentagon Papers—or rather it tries to focus on this historical moment. Instead, we get a film that is well acted, but ultimately unfocused as it tries to do too much at once.
The Post stars Tom Hank and Meryl Streep, I’m not going to bother linking to them because everyone knows who they are. Anyway, we follow Kay Graham (Streep) who is the owner of the Washington Post. At this point in time, the Post is trying to go public, and this will allow the company to grow and remain competitive in an increasingly tight market. Her editor Ben Bradlee (Hanks) is dying to get his hands on a juicy story that will catapult the paper into a leading news figure. Lucky for him, The New York Times breaks the story about the Pentagon Papers—a collection of information about the government’s dealings in Vietnam. These documents include black operations, election altering, knowing we could not win, and so forth. The Times is gagged by the Justice Department, and Bradlee sees an opening to pick up where they cannot.
Sound a little complicated? Well, it is needlessly so. We get numerous scenes of Graham debating what to do and how to proceed, Bradlee being kind of a dick to his coworkers, numerous faceless reporters doing reporting stuff, and way too many dinner scenes.
The film opens with a confused battle in Vietnam, and then quickly jumps to Graham. How the two scenes link is more conceptual than plot based. The whole thing becomes a bit of a mess quick—and we haven’t even gotten to the major problems in the film.
We have a lot of themes present here—the press, freedom, speech, security and so forth. We also have a theme of women speaking out and going against the patriarchy—sort of. These moments feel shoveled in, and they appear and disappear without any rhyme or reason. My guess is that some of this was added later to fit into the (way too late) wave for women’s equality in Hollywood. A movie about women in the corporate world, or even the newspaper world would be fascinating, but to just have these throw away scenes mention it doesn’t do the issue service.
Perhaps most annoying is the theme of money, despite all the virtuous grandstanding by the Post’s staff, it all comes down to business viability. I get that this might be accurate, but it diminishes the importance of what was at stake here. We don’t see the court arguments, or even get much information out of the papers, instead we get rich people worrying over tea.
The news staff—perhaps the most important feature in a press film—is largely uniform and faceless here. If I did not know the actor, I had no idea who they were. All I could do while watching these parts was think about how much better Spotlight did this same thing. The real bummer is that these films are often excellent, and here the whole thing doesn’t work together. We don’t even get to hear much of the Supreme Court ruling on the issue. The actual evens—ya know, the plot of the movie—play second fiddle to paper thing characterizations.
Even the legendary Hanks and Streep seem somewhat sleepy here. Hanks speaks gruffly, and I don’t think I have seen a more phoned in performance by him for decades. Streep does what she can, but the character is flat—she starts out strong—ish, and then is talked over by dicks, and finally asserts herself. However, her most powerful scenes are the intimate ones with her daughter.
I never bother looking up production notes. Perhaps I should, but I would rather not peak too far behind the curtain. However, I get the feeling this film was rushed. There are too many loose ends, subplots that go nowhere, and an ending that doesn’t wrap any of the side stories up to indicate a clearly thought out film.
The film looks okay. It is written well enough and shot well enough (despite some odd shaky cam moments) to be entertaining. Cute moments and some humor are welcome from the dreary newsroom. The film isn’t terrible, but it just doesn’t really go anywhere. The whole thing just feels too safe and too self-important to be memorable.
In the end we have an immensely talented team churn out a cookie-cutter film. Everyone involved here has done better. If you aren’t familiar with the story it might be worth watching, but if you actually want to learn about the story it might be better to just read about it. 5/10