The Post

Review by Charles Bramesco

Directed by

Steven Spielberg

Starring

Meryl Streep Sarah Paulson Tom Hanks

Anticipation.

A new Spielberg’s a new Spielberg.

Enjoyment.

A film about rushing to meet a deadline that feels like it was made that way.

In Retrospect.

Stop the presses, it’s his worst in years.

Steven Spielberg recounts the story of the Pentagon Papers – with one eye on Donald Trump – in this strangely unsatisfying political drama.

It’s unclear whether Steven Spielberg still believes in America, or if he just needs to. His latest film, The Post, dramatises the heated days leading to the Washington Post’s decision to publicise highly classified documents on US involvement in the Vietnam War, and Spielberg seizes this chapter of history for a clear Commentary on National Themes.

The terms of this conflict will not be unfamiliar to anyone with even a passing knowledge of current politics; it falls to the brave journalists to out the President’s malfeasance while he throws the full power of the White House at them, even threatening them with jail time. It’s a Trump-era motion picture, and not incidentally; Spielberg signed on in March 2017 and production began in May, blazing through photography and editing to make the Academy Awards’ end-of-year consideration date.

But in his hurry to make a relevant movie, Spielberg may have forgotten to make an honest one, or even a good one. Here, the proud patriotic spirit that seemed a little cornball when Bridge of Spies got Tom Hanks monologuing about “the rules” fully overreaches into irresponsible sentimentality. Hanks and co-star Meryl Streep portray the newspaper’s fiery editor and untested publisher and portray these characters as pillars of morality during a trial by fire.

They’re not entirely untarnished; the film’s most meaningful scene interrogates the close personal relationships they had with sitting Presidents involved in the Vietnam cover-up. But that the scene concludes with both characters simply resolving not to do that anymore is but the first in a series of increasingly frustrating cop outs.

The narrative surrounding the acquisition and publication of the damning Pentagon Papers just doesn’t conform to Spielberg’s hopeful worldview, and his attempts to force it into that shape end up disingenuous. Before an astonishingly dumb final scene at the Watergate Hotel, Spielberg gives his people the catharsis they crave when Hanks and Streep pull the trigger and their controversial report goes whatever the pre-viral name for of viral was.

The triumphant music informs the audience that our heroes have won, and not to give any thought to what a Pyrrhic victory this is. Never mind that nobody implicated in the Papers faced jail time, or that the government has continued its sketchy overseas meddling elsewhere, or that moneyed newspaper owners – a position inexplicably placed at the fore of the film, while the leakers and writers who assembled the story get scant minutes of screen time – represent the greatest threat to journalism in America. Don’t worry about it, just keep watching the footage of bustling printing presses and people handing off files.

There’s some more pedestrian incompetence at play: horrendous costumes and worse wigs; a glaringly and at some points literally phoned-in performance from Streep; dubbing of real archival audio to a fake Nixon’s mouth like an embarrassing ventriloquism routine. But it’s Spielberg’s attachment to an America that no longer exists that ultimately becomes his undoing. He wants to believe that justice naturally follows truth. Look at where that’s gotten us.

Published 18 Jan 2018

Tags: Meryl Streep Steven Spielberg Tom Hanks

Anticipation.

A new Spielberg’s a new Spielberg.

Enjoyment.

A film about rushing to meet a deadline that feels like it was made that way.

In Retrospect.

Stop the presses, it’s his worst in years.

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