The Post (2018) (Review)

The Post is so very hot off the press; Amy Pascal won the rights to Liz Hannah's screenplay in October 2016; March 2017 saw Steven Speilberg brought in for negotiations alongside Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks; Principal Photography then began in May; with post-production concluding in mid-November; ready for the film's premiere in December. For those not quite as aware as some, that's a staggering turn-around, particularly for a film of this prestige. Has the rushed production resulted in a misprint, or have the winning combination of Speilberg, Streep and Hanks found a story worth telling as soon as possible?

When highly-classified documents known as The Pentagon Papers were leaked by a disillusioned military analyst, details of more than 20 years of clandestine U.S. activities, including the government's long-running deception of the American public regarding the poor Vietnam War's efforts, are broken by The New York Times. Meanwhile, Katharine Graham (Streep), attempting to balance her social life and responsibility as owner of The Washington Post after her husband's suicide, takes the paper from a family-owned business to public offering, selling stocks to keep the organisation afloat. Editor-In-Chief Ben Bradlee (Hanks) rallies for a story and, upon landing on the Papers, races to salvage a story in the face of growing hostility and threat of criminal charges from the White House. Ultimately though, the decision to publish lies with Graham. What is she going to do?

To be timely about today's world, Speilberg looks to the past and The Post provides great topicality that captures a modern sentiment: journalistic integrity and freedom of the press is as urgent and relevant today as it was in 1971. Perhaps it is the quick turnaround of the project that ensures the film is as powerful and resonant as it is thematically, with Hannah and Josh Singer's screenplay uncovering great strength in the story's importance today. The dialogue is good-to-great and when the pair find the narratives' rhythm, we bolt towards a gripping and intense conclusion. Half way through, the film becomes the event you always suspected it would be.

It's a shame then that the first half of the film holds it back so drastically. The pacing is sluggish and it's horribly unfocused, scattershot and half-baked and far too rigid for its own good; it's not bad but terribly frustrating. It cannot decide which element of the story are worth prioritising and so it meanders, lacking the urgency to execute the explosive, groundbreaking story with enough gusto to reel you in. Admittedly, a lot of the issues are rectified in the film's second half, where it delivers a resolute conclusion both thrilling and poignant, exciting and tense - but it doesn't half make it an uneven affair.

So very well-assembled, there are a plethora of fantastic performances to be found in The Post, but the film's marquee names take up most of the air - and deservedly so one might add. As reliable and consistent as ever, it's difficult to believe that both Streep and Hanks have lasted their entire careers without crossing feature-length paths before; here, as expected, they spark off of each other magnificently. Streep's gradual rise in confidence, power and prowess couldn't have been timed more appropriately, tremendously powerful with the Time's Up movement looming largely over Hollywood. Nuanced, stirring and seemingly effortless, Streep is emotive and poised through and through, capturing Katharine's struggle to the summit excellently, both subtle and deft. Hanks, in a somewhat brasher role than Meryl, is as charismatic as ever, sharp in his delivery and commanding in his presence. A truly mighty combination they make.

With well-established and highly-regarded stars in your roster, you run the risk of ego infecting the final product - but neither Streep nor Hanks ever try to outshine their co-star, complimenting rather competing. They share the spotlight rather than fight to bask in the glory of an Oscar-worthy speech or scene-stealing moment and it's truly refreshing to see. And, for what it's worth, Meryl more than earns that Oscar nomination; she won't win but she's pretty damn terrific and deserving. I don't need to tell you this but she's an utter talent Hollywood is lucky to have.

Heavyweight talent continues with the supporting cast, a very well-rounded ensemble. The likes of Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Carrie Coon, Allison Brie, Jesse Plemons and Michael Stuhlbarg (who wins the award for starring in the most Best Picture-nominated films this year, between Call Me By Your Name and The Shape of Water) are just some of the names padding the picture out with minor but mighty performances. They are all certainly second fiddle to the 'name in lights' but their importance on the story and film should not be undersold. Sarah Paulson is very solid too but is given a bizarre speech to deliver that appears entirely out of place and out of context. It's a minor flaw that highlights the film's bigger issue.

A lot of the film's groundwork is absent. Speeches are spoken and scenes are peppered throughout that lack the resolution or significance they deserve because the ideas haven't been properly rendered or developed; on occasions, it seems that chunks are missing from the film that would have contextualised certain moments more clearly. Whether it's the heavy-handed moment Streep descends the steps of the Supreme Court to women staring in awe, or the moment Tony speaks of Graham's bravery and resolve, despite the pair never shown in the same room together, it's like corners are cut that undermine what should be the film's defining moments. In its desperation to follow the Oscar-checklist (and rush to meet the award season deadline), ideas are completely glossed over or aren't awarded the full weight they need to satisfy.

Speilberg's direction is far more restrained than you may expect from a film that otherwise screams Oscarbait. Much has been made of its planned purpose to decimate award season and some are bound to be surprised that it hasn't made much of a dent. But, for his dues, The Post is a solid entry into Speilberg's glowing filmography. He immerses you into the era; from the sound mixing of ringing typewriters and heavy printers running; the excellent framing devices utilised and shot composition from cinematographer Janusz Kaminski; and the almost-smokey atmosphere, lighting and set design. The whole affair is visually luscious, well-balanced and controlled. It's a very solid piece of work and it is great to see the inventor of the modern blockbuster excel in a very character-driven, star-led number.

And while it is thrilling to see the intense rush to meet the deadline with so many stars under one roof combing through the papers, or the decision time where Graham must make the call as to whether she should send The Papers to publish, the greatest part of The Post is witnessing the mechanics of the press print. In great awe you watch as the words and ideas become a reality, duplicated by the thousands, with Speilberg allowing time to revel in the delight of the machinery and printing process, immersing you in the fascinating hot-metal procedures.

Long-term collaborator and veteran composer John Williams scores The Post with a soaring and stirring collection of tracks that has earned him his 51st Academy Award nomination. He provides urgency during the beginning half largely absent of it and emphasises the intensity in the second half, helming the piece effectively.

Thematically urgent and terrific-acted, The Post is a solid docudrama that looks to the past to explore and consider a contemporary crisis. With all the talk of freedom of the press and government deception, the parallels with the Trump Administration are crystal clear but authentic, rarely feeling forced. While the rushed production results in some bumps in the road that could easily be rectified if time was on The Post's side, it remains a largely well-executed, solid and engaging piece of potent cinema as timely as it is necessary. Speilberg, Streep and Hanks' first formidable collaboration may not be as groundbreaking as the line-up suggests but the talent mainly distracts from the problems that arise, meeting the deadline by finding a story worth telling.


Summary: The Post certainly feels hot-off-the-press, as timely as it is necessary and even though it's more uneven and rough-around-the-edges than you would expect from a Spielberg Oscar-contender, the headline-grabbing combination of Streep and Hanks ensures that this is a story worth reading, erm, sorry, watching.