Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Film Review: The Post

Sexuality/Nudity Acceptable
Violence Acceptable
Vulgarity Acceptable
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Acceptable

Steven Spielberg is the greatest filmmaker of all time.  But even Babe Ruth would have a swing and a miss.

Having just rewatched All the President's Men, I know that the era and the subjects involved in The Post are ripe for some real political drama.  Unfortunately, the filmmakers decided on telling the story from the least interesting perspective imaginable.

The movie centers around Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) the widow who inherited The Washington Post as she prepares to take the company public.  She is earnest and studies the matters with depth, but she is intimidated by the chauvinistic bankers and businessmen who don't take her seriously.  The crux of the story occurs when one of The Post's reporters, Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk), gets ahold of the "Pentagon Papers," which are classified documents from the Johnson administration that purport to show how badly the Vietnam War has been handled.  The New York Times began reporting on the papers, but the Nixon White House is threatening legal, criminal action.  The Post's editor, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), pushes Graham to publish, but her advisors like Arthur Parsons (Bradley Whitford) say it could ruin the paper and send the people involved to prison.

As you can, this has the makings of a top-notch drama.  And when the story is told through the eyes of the leaker Daniel Elsberg (Matthey Rhys), it hums along with real tension.  But the movie always feels like it is walking two steps behind the real story.  The entire time you want to follow the The New York Times as they break the story.  Or you want to stay with Bagdikian as he hunts down the clues for the Post.  But instead, we are stuck in the family drama and moral dillemma of Graham.  I always felt like I wanted to leave that story and get to the real story.

There is a clear attempt on the part of screenwriters Liz Hannah and Josh Singer to capture the supposed zeitgeist of the time, capitalizing on the "I'm with Her" movement in anticipation of having the first female president.  The fingerprints of this thinking are unmistakeable in its ham-fisted highlights of the casual sexism of the day.  There is a scene towards the end where a female legal aid is being yelled at by a US District Attorney and we are meant to take it as a snapshot of how women are demeaned.  All I kept thinking about was how all legal aids are put through the ringer by those in power.  And if that wasn't subtle enough, one of the last shots of the film shows Graham walking slow motion down the steps of the Supreme Court as a line of young women look at her in awe of her persistence.  The message itself is not the problem, but that it feels like a finger-wagging lecture rather than a piece of entertainment.

Spielberg is still using all of his visual skills to make the movie come to life.  The close-up shots of the newspaper machinery are fascinating to watch.  Still the master of the single-shot, he knows how to draw out the drama and when to cut it up.  It is able to visually increase the paranoia and pressure on the people involved so that there is some real tension.  But all of this is undercut by going back to Graham's storyline.  If her story had been another facet in an ensemble picture, it would be fine.  But putting her in the spotlight unbalances the whole narrative.

And it's a shame because there are some really wonderful questions to be explored here between freedom of speech and the necessity of state's secrets.  Where is the line?  And the movie does explore when to follow your conscience even in the face of existing law and loyalties.  These are all things that should have been explored in much more depth, but time was taken away to admire Graham's bravery in every scene.

The performances are fairly good.  Streep does a good job of showing us the real heart of the character behind the many masks she must wear.  Hanks is fine as the cantankerous Bradley.  The real highlight is Odenkirk as Bagdikian who shows incredibly dramatic and comedic range.  He should have been nominated for more awards.  Spielberg packs his movie with a number of great actors like Sarah Paulson, Bruce Greenwood, Alison Brie, Carri Coon, and Jesse Plemons.  They all do their jobs well, but the script does not give them enough to do.  This is Streep's movie.

The Post is not in any way a bad film.  But there is little to recommend it in an already crowded field of films.  It clearly belongs to the category of "Lesser Spielberg."

picture by Yasir72.multan 

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