Review: The Post
Three stars: Hanks, Streep & SpielbergMuch like his Tom Hanks starring movie, Bridge of Spies, Steven Spielberg’s The Post feels like a worthy historical drama designed to be just that – a worthy historical drama. Hitting all the right liberal beats but failing to totally engage, interesting whilst never too insightful, well-executed but hardly exciting.
Tom Hanks plays the editor of The Washington Post, and Meryl Streep the paper’s publisher, in a drama centred on the “should we or shouldn’t we” question of publishing the Pentagon Papers - classified US government documents revealing the lies told about the Vietnam War.
The script, by Josh Singer and Liz Hannah, and Spielberg’s direction, are restrained, recalling older Hollywood dramatic fare, where character and conversation were to the fore. Think Sidney Lumet’s Twelve Angry Men (1957), or Fail Safe (1964). But the largest shadow cast over The Post is Alan J. Pakula’s All the President’s Men (1976). Heck, there’s even a shot of a poster for the William Goldman scripted, Robert Redford starring, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid in the first 5-minutes by way of knowing nod.
Still, the early 1970s period is expertly portrayed, and the actors assembled by Spielberg are superb, from Hanks and Streep as the leads, through a supporting cast featuring the likes of Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons, David Cross, Matthew Rhys and Alison Brie.
Expertly crafted and performed, The Post is never dull, but feels like a movie from a different era. A slow, thoughtful, procedural drama all about the moral philosophising and earnest hand-wringing of white, middle-class intellectuals of the 1970s debating what freedom of the press entails.
Yes, it’s relevant in many ways to our modern post Edward Snowden and Wikileaks age, in which Trumpist squeals of “Fake news!” and right-wing media and tabloid entertainment threaten old school journalism, but at times rather than subtly hinting at these parallels, The Post clubs its audience over the head with its righteous indignation. Fans of heavy hitting drama, and of Streep and Hanks in particular, won’t be disappointed, but if like me you felt Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies was more worthy than wonderful, you’ll likely feel the same again about his latest.
That said, mediocre Spielberg is still head and shoulders above most other Hollywood fare, so see it if only to admire the talent on display in every aspect of film-making, from cinematography, to lighting, acting, costumes, design, score and sound.