Release: 21st May 2018
Format: BR / DVD / DGTL (14th May)
Set in 1971, ‘Washington Post’ publisher Katharine Graham (Streep) faces the difficult decision of whether to publish documents surrounding the American government’s communications during the Vietnam War, brought to her by military analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys). Within the papers are the communications of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) in which he revealed his belief of the war being unwinnable but stood by his decision to send American men to Southeast Asia and their certain death.
What happens when the most successful director in film history takes on one of the biggest scandals in 20th century America? You’d hope the answer would include adjectives such as “tense”, “powerful”, and “exhilarating”. Unfortunately, the best we can come up with is, “entertaining.”
The Post tells the story of The Washington Post and its 1971 legal battle with the U.S government in an effort to publish the Pentagon Papers (a military dossier outlining the failures and Presidential missteps in the handling of the Vietnam war). What it is REALLY about is Trump-era America, and the continual gag orders and legal onslaughts from The White House, aimed at the free press. It is this muddled repurposing of history that serves to dampen most of the film’s potential. Where drama can be found we are instead fed self-righteous monologues, when the film calls for some humanity we are presented with mythical figures who feel like leftovers from an abandoned Aaron Sorkin script. Even the news story itself and the complexity of its telling (albeit for a great scene in the film’s third act) is second fiddle to the nasty, nasty Nixon regime. This is to say that for all of its pep and sizzle, The Post is mostly a missed opportunity at a great film.
Where the film does succeed is in bringing two titans of cinema together and putting them in a situation where they can take on the world. If The Post had minor roles for Jack Nicholson, Daniel Day-Lewis, Anthony Hopkins, Judy Dench and Nicole Kidman it could have been The Avengers for grown ups. Admittedly, Hanks seems to have more fun with the lion’s share of charm, while Streep, ironically, has to wade through a sea of men before she finally gets a chance to do anything except look lost. Spielberg directs with a deft hand, but this feels very low energy for him. Even the super talky Lincoln afforded itself the odd flourish. Some nice dialogue scenes crop up here and there, while hints at a more paranoid and gruelling film appear every so often (see Robert McNamara vs Kay Graham). But then half assed agendas come-a-knocking and we get back in to the plodding necessity of learning what we all know; Nixon (aka Trump) was / is an absolute bully and a total d-hole, and women are given a hard time in leadership roles. By all means, make a film about either of these things, but at least bother to make them the focal theme.
It would be hard to gauge from this review, but The Post is a competent and well crafted little film; it just underwhelms. If you are expecting All The President’s Men for the modern day, or even a updated Spotlight, then you’ll be disappointed. If you’ve never seen All The President’s Men or Spotlight, then this is a good primer.
Film Grade: C
A rather enjoyable set of Behind the Scenes, so the usual care and detail that goes in to a Spielberg joint. Some hearty back slapping goes on as we take a look at Hanks and Streep in their own bios. And we get to watch a twilight years John Williams do his thing. More informative than the film itself.
Special Features Grade: B-
If this were an essay on the actual Pentagon Papers, then the teacher’s note would say something like; “Well written, but could do better.”