Legendary director Steven Spielberg takes a shot at one of the biggest battles over the First Amendment in “The Post.”
Like the title lets on, the film follows the staff at the Washington Post, specifically its editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and the publisher Kay Graham (Meryl Streep). The film picks up in the midst of the Richard Nixon Presidency, just as the Pentagon Papers are first being published by the New York Times.
The publishing upsets the Nixon-led government, though, to the point where an injunction is filed against the Times. The Post, meanwhile, also gets hold of the papers, leading to a question between Graham and Bradlee on whether or not to publish.
When “The Post” is detailing the hard work of the journalists on screen, it’s at its best. The pressure of the deadline, having to obtain the papers and transcribe them in secret, and the collaborative effort is dramatic and entertaining. These moments, from meeting with the person who leaked the papers, Daniel Ellsberg, to the sequences where the reporters are piecing things together, really show the stakes of the situation.
Unfortunately, not as compelling are the segments dedicated to much of Graham’s arc. For most of the first half, the issue revolving around her character have to do with her ownership of the paper and making the business go public on the stock market. These aspects, while true to life and important in their own right, feel disjointed from the significance of the Pentagon Papers.
Additionally, there’s a great deal of time dedicated to the question of whether or not to publish, and not enough screen-time focused on the aftermath of publishing, with all of the political ramifications.
Another problem that the movie runs into is being too overproduced and grandiose. This is apparent in some of the monologues that take place, to the point where they feel Hollywoodized and inauthentic. In comparison, the journalism film “Spotlight” showcased the reporting and publishing in a much more realistic, straightforward light. “All the Presidents Men,” also did it this way.
One of the biggest examples of just how overproduced this piece of cinema was is the picture’s final scene, where it actually sets up another historical event that the Washington Post covered.
Fortunately, the flick is well acted. The movie stars its share of Oscar winners, including its two leads, so the acting is of course on point. Both Streep and Hanks are solid in their roles. Hanks, for example, is convincing as the grizzled news editor while Streep is great portraying the publisher who has to deal with the Washington politics.
The picture is also competently made, as expected from a Spielberg helmed project. Some sequences that stand out is when one of the Post reporters meets with Ellsberg in a hotel room. The moment is very well shot and the dim lighting lets on how dangerous the situation is. Another example is a scene showing how the issue of the Post including the papers was published through the large printing press.
“The Post” is a film with plenty of talent around it, and it has plenty of good moments. However, the film is somewhat trying to tell two stories and does so unsuccessfully and there are sequences that feel overdramatic. It’s not a bad attempt, but it could have been more. 3.6 out of 5.