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Review: The Post (2017)

The Post (2017)

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Premise: Based on true events. In 1971, classified government documents about the Vietnam War were leaked to the press. The staff of The Washington Post intended to publish the documents at the same time the paper was planning to go public.

What Works: The Post is a fairly complex story of the relationship between journalism and business. The story centers upon two figures: Kay Graham, the owner and publisher of The Washington Post, and Ben Bradlee, the paper’s editor in chief. As depicted in the film, The Washington Post was transitioning to become a publicly traded company just as the Pentagon Papers story broke and the controversy over the case threatened to derail the public offering. The Post balances those storylines and Graham and Bradlee have a friendly but antagonistic relationship. Graham is the most interesting character in the film. Played by Meryl Streep, Kay Graham was an upper class housewife who found herself running a newspaper after her husband’s suicide and not only does she face the difficult circumstances of the Pentagon Papers case but Graham also confronts the boys clubs of Wall Street and the newspaper industry. This movie does a very good job of framing Graham in ways that reveal the way she is marginalized or unsure of herself without getting overly obvious about it and Graham gradually asserts herself in ways that feel authentic. The Post also says something about the relationship between the news media and the powerful figures and institutions that they cover. This is dramatized through Kay Graham’s friendship with former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood); the story an academic ethical concept into a tangible human reality. The movie critiques how journalists have compromised their integrity for access in a way that’s relevant to the contemporary audience. 

What Doesn’t: The Post is about events from nearly half a century ago and viewers who lived through that period or who are familiar with the Pentagon Papers case and the Vietnam War generally are poised to get the most out of this movie. The film doesn’t provide a lot of context and viewers who lack that foreknowledge might find themselves lost or missing the significance of the case. As a historical film, The Post suffers from the feeling of inevitability. Historical dramas are often afflicted with a sense of self-importance that keeps the drama feeling like a static museum exhibit. That’s true of The Post. It’s partly the fault of longtime Spielberg cinematographer Janusz Kaminski. He composes the images that look good in and of themselves but Kaminski’s style is all wrong for the tone and subject matter. The Post looks too slick and too polished. It doesn’t have any rawness and the setting often looks like a facsimile of the 1970s instead of authentically taking place in that decade. The Post lacks tension. This is partly due to the stylistic choices but also to pacing problems. The story moves ahead in fits and starts and the drama plateaus in critical moments when it should be escalating. The conclusion of The Post feels pre-ordained and so the film just ends rather than coming to a resolution.

Bottom Line: The Post is a competent historical drama. This isn’t a great movie but it tells this story well enough and Meryl Streep is quite good in it.

Episode: #682 (January 21, 2018)