"The Post” is a solid block of cheese hurled through the window of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
The clothes, hairstyles and newsroom typewriters of the film might belong to 1971, but the themes and sentiment are aimed pointedly at 2018 — at the current presidential administration and its combative relationship with the press. Steven Spielberg has said he was compelled to make “The Post” because of “the way things were happening in the world and in the country.”
Even if you approve of a film that’s trying to poke Trump in the eye, “The Post” is a little too on the nose.
It’s a film of tremendous craft and very good performances — it is, after all, the first time Spielberg, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks have all worked together. But the film’s story ultimately gets absorbed by its message (truth is a good thing), leading to a few too many preachy moments. Leading to lines like: “What will happen if we don’t publish? We will lose. The country will lose.”
It’s one of those historical movies wherein the characters are too hyper-aware of their place in history.
And yet, and yet, and yet this is still at times a pretty darn effective ticking-clock thriller based on some inherently compelling history.
“The Post” is about the Washington Post’s 1971 decision to publish stories about the Pentagon Papers, the top-secret reports pertaining to the Vietnam War, in the face of a legal threat from the Nixon administration.
The film chronicles the papers’ origins, with military analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) sneaking thousands of classified pages out of the RAND Corp. to leak to the press.
The New York Times was first to break the Pentagon Papers story and the first to be blocked by the White House through a court injunction. With the Times briefly out of the game, the Post took over the story and received additional papers from Ellsberg. In the midst of this incendiary story, the Post was in the process of becoming a publicly traded company. It wasn’t exactly a good time to get into a legal tussle with the president.
The best journalism movies
With the release of "The Post," World-Herald movie critic Micah Mertes ranks the best journalism films.
Note: Movies like “Citizen Kane” and “Zodiac” have journalism in them, but Mertes wouldn’t go so far to call them journalism movies. Otherwise, you know, they’d top this list.
“The Post,” based on an original script by Liz Hannah and “Spotlight” co-writer Josh Singer, squeezes all the drama it can out of this premise. It focuses chiefly on the efforts of executive editor Ben Bradlee (Hanks) to break the story and the tough call of publisher Katharine Graham (Streep) to publish it.
Streep is great here, but what else is new?
Her arc in “The Post” is probably the most interesting thing about the film. Having inherited the paper from her husband, Graham is thrust into an arena of men who don’t trust her leadership.
At the start of the film, Graham is a sheepish socialite. She doesn’t speak up at meetings, but she does go to dinner parties with ex-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood). By the end of the film, Graham has found her voice and journalistic independence.
Hanks is also great here, but what else is new? He plays Bradlee as a gruff and hard-driving newsman with a heart of gold.
Streep and Hanks aside, one of the prime pleasures of “The Post” is its deep bench of great supporting players. Bob Odenkirk in particular stands out as Ben Bagdikian, the assistant managing editor for national news who receives thousands of the classified papers from Ellsberg. Tracy Letts, Sarah Paulson and Carrie Coon, likewise, do fine work in smaller roles.
And Spielberg, well, he’s also great here. But. What. Else. Is. New?
Working with his usual composer, cinematographer and editor (John Williams, Janusz Kaminski and Michael Kahn), Spielberg has made a predictably great-looking and fast-moving entertainment with a roving lens and a ceaseless sense of flow. (Imagine the movie “Spotlight,” but if the camera moved sometimes.)
He does some showy things (such as shooting a several-minute single-take conversation between Streep and Hanks), and he does some subtly effective things (like using camera placement and staging to indicate who’s winning an argument).
But despite all the grand filmmaking, I still found it difficult to get invested in the story (a story, mind you, that has come under fire for diminishing the New York Times’ role in breaking the Pentagon Papers).
The stakes feel too abstract. The sentiment too laden with sap.
“The Post” doesn’t feel as significant as “Spotlight” or as dangerous as “All the President’s Men” or as immediate as “The Paper.”
But it does feel like the timeliest journalism movie ever. You can’t fault it for missing a deadline.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Carrie Coon, David Cross, Jesse Plemons, Sarah Paulson, Bradley Whitford, Matthew Rhys, Bruce Greenwood, Alison Brie, Michael Stuhlbarg
Rating: PG-13 for language and brief war violence
Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes
Theaters: Aksarben, Alamo, Bluffs 17, Majestic, Oakview, Twin Creek, Village Pointe, Westroads