The Post has been called second-tier Spielberg, and that’s true. Of course, second-tier for SS means it’s more finely crafted than 95 percent of other films. But in spite of the political perspectives brought to the film by many viewers that have added value where there is none, this is less intriguing and more simplistic than either All the President’s Men, to which it’s been compared, or Spotlight, to which it hasn’t.
To get all the political considerations out of the way … This has been judged something of a rallying cry for freedom of the press, and the actual story of lies and deceptions regarding the Vietnam Way is both infuriating and tragic. Unfortunately, it hasn’t quite been translated into the suspenseful (All the President’s Men) or enraging (Spotlight) film it could have been. In fact, it’s not quite clear what the film wants to be. Is it a story of the free press, or an anguished cry for the lost young lives and loss of truth and trust? Or is it the story of a woman finding her voice and ever-strengthening spine? Apparently, all three and more, and the multiple goals blunt the film’s force.
Also irritating is the issue of fake news, which isn’t just a rallying cry of the left. Upon learning years ago that the New York Times, in covering the infamous Kitty Genovese murder, decided that the “no one came to help” angle, though completely untrue and known as such by the paper, was the story they would promote because it made better copy, my respect for even the greatest newspapers in the land has been suspect. I won’t even go into the hatchet job I know the paper at the center of The Post has accomplished based on politics alone.
But back to the film…. Much of the attention has been on the two legendary leads—Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. When I heard that Streep had been nominated for Best Actress again, I was tempted to think it was just an easy vote for a great actress. But darn if she doesn’t deserve it. Streep shows the fear, hesitance and insecurity of a woman thrown into an unanticipated position and learning to come to complete terms with that. It’s an original and fresh performance that doesn’t lean on her past successes yet adds another example of her range and abilities. Unfortunately, the slow tracking shot onto her face when making the key decision doesn’t…quite…work…. But that could be the fault of the writing or direction as well.
Hanks, not nominated this year (to the surprise of some), doesn’t quite fare as well as Ben Bradlee. Perhaps because he is in the shadow of Jason Robards’ Oscar-winning performance in All the President’s Men, Hanks comes across as a hard-working but ultimately unconvincing substitute. He’s fine to occasionally very fine in some scenes, but he basically is too nice a guy and doesn’t have the requisite darkness, bitterness, and grumpiness to be a new generation’s Ben Bradlee. Occasionally his comic persona and comic chops override the character to a temporarily humorous but ultimately undermining effect. Fortunately, Bob Odenkirk gives a consistently strong performance as Ben Bagdikian. There’s also solid work all around from Bradley Whitford, Tracy Letts, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Rhys (as Daniel Ellsburg, who needed to be in much more of the film), and David Cross, but the net effect is a parade of well-known television actors whose personae override their characters.
One great strength of the film apart from its acting is the acknowledgement and investigation of the various elements at play when making a decision of whether to print controversial material or not. There were business considerations at this juncture in the paper’s history that one wouldn’t have expected, and there are several personal issues at stake, the main one being the sometimes murky relationships between journalists and politicians that are not always the solid friendships they may have appeared at first glance. Any one of these could have been a separate film, and perhaps a better one.
Sorry, National Board of Review. Streep could be considered Best Actress, yes; after all, how can one judge among several great performances this past year? But Best Picture and Best Actor for Hanks?—these will come back to haunt you.
The Post is a solid film with one great performance and several good ones. It follows one main story that turns out not be as interesting as the many other issues it touches on. It’s worth one’s time, but no need to hurry.