The Post Delivers Big Message Minus Emotional Stamp

Movie review: The Post

Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep play second fiddle to a 7,000-page stack of paper and an old Xerox machine in Steven Spielberg’s well-intentioned history lesson about lying Presidents

The Post

3/5

Starring: Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Bob Odenkirk, Bruce Greenwood, Tracy Letts

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Rating: 1h5 56 mins

Running time: PG-13

By Katherine Monk

If only there were an Oscar for inanimate objects. The Post would be loading a wheelbarrow full of hardware home on awards night — with outstanding supporting performance trophies for Meryl Streep’s spectacles, The Washington Post’s printing press, hot lead plates, and pneumatic tube canisters. Plus, a special lifetime achievement award to the Xerox machine, which not only pierced the heart of the Nixon administration, it continues to mesmerize with its blinding bar of moving white light.

I’m not being completely facetious. Steven Spielberg has rediscovered a love for all things analog in The Post — as if journalism could suddenly regain depth and respectability, and earn the trust of the masses with a magical touch of the manual carriage return.

It’s such a nice idea, and when Spielberg commits to a vision, it’s always ‘one hunnid’ — which means The Post is a picture-perfect synopsis of the Pentagon Papers and their place in history, as well a patriotic wave of the First Amendment and a call to journalistic arms.

It’s ambitious and noble in intent, as the choice of its top-ranking twin leads suggest with Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks sharing the marquee. And, truly, no one can move a camera with the same skill set as Spielberg. He does his best to mimic All the President’s Men in tone and texture, while filming a newsroom as a D-Day beach. Every frame is a testament to cinematic talent, behind and before the cameras.

Yet, as much as a montage of old-school tools may turn me on, and as much as I respect the two leads as actors and the entire team, there’s something about The Post that doesn’t scan. As the lede suggests, there’s almost an over-emphasis on the things instead of the people — the artifacts over the drama.

Whether it’s handing over the starring role to a 7,000-page stack of documents now known as the Pentagon Papers (aka United States – Vietnam Relations 1954-1967), or letting Streep get cute with her glasses as Post publisher Katharine Graham, or practically ejaculating at the sight of an offset press, Spielberg fills the frame with great detail — yet fumbles with the big point.

Yet, as much as a montage of old-school tools may turn me on, and as much as I respect the two leads as actors and the entire team, there’s something about The Post that doesn’t scan. As the lede suggests, there’s almost an over-emphasis on the things instead of the people — the artifacts over the drama.

Sure, the script gives us a speech from Post editor Ben Bradlee — played here by a rather trim Tom Hanks — about the importance of publishing, and speaking truth to power, as safeguards of democracy.

Screenwriters Liz Hannah and Josh Singer (The West Wing, Spotlight) also tug at the stuff under the rug, and the personal connections that make D.C. politics such a soap opera: There’s a whole high school clique of clustered social relationships behind every move, with some layers so old and petrified, they are considered assumptions — because power assumes power is too much to lose.

And so powerful liars win.

The Post’s entire raison d’être is to remind us that the same still holds true, while ringing a bell for the little newspaper that could, and did, challenge the status quo. When publisher and owner Katharine Graham put her social and financial position at risk by giving Bradlee the green light to print the papers that implied a wholesale coverup at the highest levels, she knew it was about the very foundation of where power lies. It’s in the hands of the powerful until it’s wrestled back by the people through revolution, or, as should happen in a democracy, through an empowered and entirely autonomous fourth estate doing its job alongside free and open elections.

When one reporter states “I always wanted to be part of a revolution,” we should feel he’s at the centre of one. Hanks and Streep had to build that tension for us. They had to make the whole thing personal, because for Bradlee and Graham, it actually was.

The necessary scenes are there. The acting in every one of them is solid. The production design is impeccable and the message is urgent. The drama, however, is soft where it needed to be hard. Big speeches are a cheap substitute for a truly emotional voyage. It’s the difference between going to church on Sundays and believing in a cause. Spielberg nails the sermon, but he fails to rally the soul.

@katherinemonk

Main photo: Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee and Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham in The Post. Courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

THE EX-PRESS, January 12, 2017

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Review: The Post

User Rating

4 (1 Votes)

Summary

3Score

Everything in Steven Spielberg's detailed ode to journalism, the First Amendment and the democratic ideal are written across the page in 100-point type. Yet, for all the noble intentions wrapped up in a waving flag, The Post doesn't light a fire as much as it smoulders -- turning the scandal of the Pentagon Papers into a thick mess that never hits an emotional chord. It's almost as if Spielberg were more fascinated by the artifacts than the action, which is why this movie feels more like a thing than a feeling. -- Katherine Monk

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