Posted under: Reviews
Recounting the 1971 government revelations, The Post finds Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep) – the owner of The Washington Post – and her reporting team, led by the cocksure editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), struggle with the decision of publishing an article against the government, after they get a hold of the Pentagon Papers – 7,000 odd pages of government secrets detailing all the lies the U.S government kept about the Vietnam War from its citizens, leading them on like an unaware pig being taken to slaughter – after their competitors, The New York Times, are forbidden from publishing the full breadth of the secrets. Bradlee insists on publishing, but with Graham’s personal ties to Nixon’s elite (notably, her good friend McNamara (Bruce Greenwood)), and possible criminal charges looming at large if they go ahead with printing, the decision doesn’t come with as light trepidation from her: publish and expose the lies of the government, or self-censor and keep the full truth in the shadows… and the possible costs of whatever decision she makes.
The calibre of work on display in The Post is of such a remarkable standard and it is utterly compelling to watch; both Hanks and Streep give brilliantly understated, nuanced yet thoroughly gripping performances here and their dynamic is full of charm, buoyancy and it feels real – they have such veritable chemistry, just bouncing back-and-forth so magnetically and holding their own against one another impressively. The result of these three titans working together, Hanks and Streep in-front of the camera, and Spielberg moulding from behind, makes for such superb viewing – the performances are fantastic and the camera dances around them majestically to create such captivating and clever scenes that absorb the viewer and really keep them thoroughly present. The supporting cast – and, by god, is it a stellar ensemble - all do a terrific job at holding their own in a film primarily dominated by that powerhouse trio and they all deliver such entertaining performances too, the likes of Bob Odenkirk as the quick-witted Bagdikian, Sarah Paulson, David Cross, Tracy Letts, even Alison Brie impresses in her mere few minutes on-screen.
Watching a story such as this unfold, the decision to print almost seems too easy to us nowadays. But the beauty of Liz Hannah's pulsating and textured screenplay, and Spielberg’s mesmerising direction of character here, not only shows us both sides of the coin, but it makes us understand Graham’s tricky predicament too - perhaps even side with her. It’s a subliminal, well-focused screenplay; it’s quick-paced, crackling with effervescence and sharp dialogue and technical jargon – so much so that every word really counts and it's easy to get lost in this behemoth of a film if you drop your guard even for a few seconds. But, as great as the screenplay is, and as terrific as the performances are, this is all in Spielberg’s hands and he pulls it off with such energy and ease. This is a film soaked in style, the camera movements are swift and inspired and the film flows with such palpable urgency; it’s gorgeously shot, crisp and dripping with ingenuity – you can almost smell the tinge of typewriter ink as it clacks away; taste the bitter lemonade in the heated, dry room with reporters scrambling through the papers; you can slice butter with the razor-edge tension between Graham and her lawyers as they urge her not to publish. Spielberg’s orchestration of this story is meticulously detailed and crafted, so much so that we feel a part of The Washington Post and a part of the discussion ourselves - plunged into the story itself.
The Post is far from a masterpiece, however. It takes a while to find its footing, awkwardly bumbling around for a little while and dabbling in unnecessary conversation before getting to the meat of the story and the timeliness of it in a post-Trump world can feel a little too heavy-handed at times – it feels too “Oscar bait-y” in that notion (well told bait, but bait nonetheless). It’s also a very technical and quick-paced film and whilst this grounds the film with that necessary authenticity and urgency, it is sure to lose the lazy viewer and, at its breakneck speed, it can feel a little too frenetic for its own good at times. But it doesn’t detract from just how exceptional a piece this is. It certainly won’t sit well with all audiences – these newspapers film tend not to anyway, it’s just the nature of the material. However, for the keen viewer, Spielberg has created a film that feels important; it handles its material with balance and deft skill but, moreover, it handles it with energy and passion and this translates on-screen with a film that is heartfelt, sharp and utterly riveting and engrossing to watch. There is a reason Steven Spielberg has the acclaim he does and it’s because he knows to tell one hell of a story. And with Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep along for the ride too, what an exciting one it is!
Cocksure in its nature, The Post is a film that knows it's good. Just how good, though? Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep and Steven Spielberg coming together to tell this crackling, urgent and brilliant story kind of good. An unmissable, walloping triumph.
About the Author
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.