Post, The (2017)
Release Date: December 22nd, 2017 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Steven Spielberg Actors: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Rhys, Alison Brie, Jesse Plemons, David Cross, Zach Woods, Carrie Coon
t is in 1966 in Vietnam when Dan Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) documents firsthand the various military blunders and disinformation by government officials (in an unexpectedly detailed, action-oriented scene that belongs in a war movie, not a political drama). Progress and optimism are proclaimed, but the reality is that even with a recent injection of 100,000 troops, United States forces are in the same position as before. It’s a losing war and a lost cause, but no presidency is willing to admit mistakes; the reputation of the country is at stake. Ellsberg spies a solution when he realizes he has access to dozens of volumes of secret files on the justification of the war, which he photocopies for eventual dissemination to the New York Times.
In 1971 in Washington D.C., Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) must make some tough decisions. Her company, the Washington Post, needs to go public in order to stay financially afloat. Her board members and business advisors don’t have the utmost confidence in her abilities, primarily because of the nature in which she became the owner – assets passed down not to her, but to her husband, from whom she inherited them after his suicide. Plus, there’s a certain sexism among her colleagues, who surely aren’t prepared to work with a powerful woman. But just as she worries about legal clauses that could allow investors to decamp, her team of reporters, helmed by Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), come across the Pentagon Papers: the very same top secret files from Ellsberg that unmask severe governmental corruption.
There are essentially two movies at work in “The Post.” The first involves the newspaper’s competition from the New York Times, run-ins with the White House (specifically when Nixon blocks the Post from covering his daughter’s wedding), conflicted viewpoints from executives, infighting between the publisher and editor, and the potential for poaching valuable reporters. These sequences revolve around Graham and the future of her empire; but this is the duller of the two. In fact, her involvement in the revelations of the Pentagon Papers is minimal; she merely chooses between taking opposing pieces of advice from her peers. Most of her scenes slog along with talk of the IPO and finances. The only genuinely interesting component of her story is that the truth – which is monumental in the declining support for the Vietnam War – is secondary to whether or not the paper can turn a profit.
Far more interesting is the second movie weaving along in “The Post”: the investigative journalism aspect, which borrows liberally from “All the President’s Men” and “Spotlight.” But even this story is less tense and cinematic than it should be. Despite uncovering significant historical information, the actual sleuthing is bland; rather than digging, the reporters are handed documents – literally dropped off anonymously at a desk.
The all-star, ensemble cast (including such recognizable faces as Bob Odenkirk, Sarah Paulson, Alison Brie, Jesse Plemons, David Cross, Zach Woods, and Michael Stuhlbarg) is fun to watch, but they’re unable to save the story from its disarray. Director Steven Spielberg hopes to spice up the narrative with a few cinematographic tricks (which appear like those of Michael Bay) and by mixing the two stories together, often cutting back and forth to force tension, but the tiresomeness of the stock exchange and board meetings simply can’t be jolted by the shuffling of papers or marathon typing sessions. All the drama is given to Streep (who spends the majority of the picture on the verge of tears), yet it should be bestowed upon the reporters, explicitly to highlight the compelling notion that the government can’t dictate what can or cannot be printed in the press. The facts (and historical implications) may be fascinating, but the suspense is flat and the movie ultimately dozy.
– Mike Massie