close menu
Meryl Streep Shines in Steven Spielberg’s Overlong THE POST (Review)

Meryl Streep Shines in Steven Spielberg’s Overlong THE POST (Review)

In some ways, The Post plays like a real-life comic-book origin story, though whether or not it’s about a superhero or villain may depend greatly upon one’s personal politics. In the media landscape of today, The Washington Post has more or less designated itself the principal foe of the Trump administration; in The Post, we see how the so-called irrelevant regional publication took on a Republican president who painted the press as his arch-enemy (Nixon, in this case). Given that Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks are on the side of the paper, you already know where the sympathies of writer Liz Hannah and director Steven Spielberg lie. But that shouldn’t be the make-or-break factor, necessarily; plenty of non-right-wing Hollywood voters had no trouble honoring Streep when she portrayed conservative icon Margaret Thatcher in a sympathetic manner.

The question shouldn’t be “Do you agree with the worldview of a given movie’s hero?” at least if the film’s intended audience is filled out by folks old enough to make their own minds up. The question is if it has a compelling story, well-told. And the answer, in this case, is… only sorta.

The early scenes are definitely a blast, though, with Spielberg making his own really short version of a Vietnam War movie, complete with obligatory Credence Clearwater Revival on the soundtrack (he has the decency to realize they recorded songs beside “Fortunate Son,” at least). Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) is an embedded journalist referred to by troops as a “longhair” just for having slightly frizzy curls, and once he realizes that Defense Secretary Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood, clamped beneath an awkward hairpiece) has commissioned secret documents about the history of U.S. interference in Vietnam, Ellsberg steals and leaks the information to the press.

The Ellsberg scenes utilize Spielberg’s talents well: they are both adventure movie and social consciousness in that way that he loves. But this isn’t Ellsburg’s movie, unfortunately; it is, instead, one that mostly takes place in living rooms and newsrooms as men in suits—and one woman—try to decide what to do with what they have. And the static-location movie as a form is not entirely Spielberg’s forte; he’s the guy you’d pick to make a 12 Angry Men prequel about the crime itself, rather than the acclaimed jury-room drama.

Streep is as excellent as you’d expect in the role of Post publisher Katharine Graham, who inherited the business after her father and her husband died, and as the film starts is preparing to take the company public, barely aware of her own power to flex the paper’s muscle the way male publishers would. She’s utterly believable as an upstate blue-blood hobnobbing with politicians and wealthy donors, while slowly awakening to what it all means and where she can fit into a world where feminism is now a thing. Hanks is less convincing as executive editor Ben Bradlee, coming across more like the office cut-up who does a hilarious caricature impersonation of the boss at parties than as an actual newspaper man.

Chalk some of this up to personal bias; I’ve worked in a newsroom, and those top guys have a particular authentic, street-smart vibe that lets you know they’ve really lived the life. Hanks can’t quite fake it, but what’s amazing is that supporting players David Cross and Bob Odenkirk can and do. As the unfortunately named Ben Bagdikian, who actually figures out Ellsburg is the leak, Odenkirk is, believe it or not, Oscar-worthy as a guy who really does look like he put in the legwork. Cross does less beneath chubby prosthetics as Howard Simons, but he vanishes into his small role almost completely.

So what you have here is an extended argument in which Bradlee wants to publish the Pentagon Papers, a gaggle of business suits don’t, and Katharine must make the final decision. Will controversy kill her paper on the stock market, or do investors expect and demand reporters who stand firm? Can any newspaper win a direct confrontation with Nixon? The prez, incidentally, is played here by a body double combined with actual Nixon audio, an effect that works better than you’d think.

But like all modern Spielberg movies, The Post just goes on too long. The terms of the debate become clear pretty quickly, and anyone with even passing interest in this story already knows the outcome. What pleasures are to be found here, then, must come from the individual performances, like when the moment Katharine realizes she has power is played as a big dramatic reveal, or when Ben Bagdikian excitedly… makes phone calls. Lest you had any doubt, yes, there are some pretty obvious attempts to parallel this particular battle between the Post and Nixon with the modern state of affairs; Spielberg is definitely trying to pat Democrats on the shoulder and say, “Hey, it’ll be okay—we’ve been through this before.” If you’re in need of that, it may be enough. Personally, I’d rather see his full-length Ellsberg film.

Rating: 3 burritos out of 5

Images: 20th Century Fox

READ MORE OF OUR MOVIE REVIEWS!

An Official Statement from Nerdist

An Official Statement from Nerdist

article
What Happened in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR After the Snap

What Happened in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR After the Snap

article
ANNIHILATION's 'Shimmer' and Ending Explained

ANNIHILATION's 'Shimmer' and Ending Explained

article