In 1971, and following the deaths of her father and husband, Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) found herself the de facto owner and publisher of The Washington Post, despite how little faith or respect her all-male team of advisers had for her. Meanwhile, the Post’s editor-in-chief, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), fought to make the Post a relevant competitor to the more established national newspapers, and a lead on some illegally copied, highly classified government documents may be the key to making that happen.
The Post is an incredibly bland film. Steven Spielberg has a tendency to find out about a portion of history he finds interesting and throwing a film together around it, seemingly for his own amusement. Sometimes this results in one of the greatest films ever made, such as Schindler’s List, other times it’s something very good, like Lincoln, and other times the result is something that just exists, without really being much use for anyone. Alas, The Post is very much the latter. It was made in a similar way to Schindler’s List, produced almost simultaneously with a giant blockbuster with a far greater budget and more time-consuming, effects-driven post-production (in the case of Schindler’s List it was Jurassic Park, here it was Ready Player One), but where the former is intensely emotional and impeccably performed, led by a handful of career-best performances, The Post is awash with an eclectic, all-star cast for the most part coasting on the star power of their colleagues, most of whom refrain from being even remotely interesting for the entirety of their screen time.
It almost goes without saying how topical much of what’s on screen here is in relation to the current news cycle. The American government brazenly lies to reporters, and later prevents them from doing their job of investigating the current and past affairs for the benefit of the general public. Elsewhere the prejudice and barriers within the workplace for anyone who isn’t a white English-speaking man are highlighted in giant flashing letters, so in these respects Spielberg has made a very timely piece, whose ideals and morals would do well to be acknowledged and adapted by everyone in a position of authority, this I cannot fault the film for. It’s infuriating early on to see Streep’s Katharine rehearsing her figures before a meeting, being the only attendee to arrive with any form of preparation or notes, yet still be talked over and ignored in favour of a male colleague (Tracy Letts) stating the exact same facts that she has just done mere moments before, and the effect this has on Katharine’s confidence and performance is disheartening. Since the first time I saw this I’ll admit I have noticed my female colleagues seem to be interrupted in meetings more than the men, and I’ve been trying to improve this, so if nothing else there’s at least one positive outcome of seeing the film.
Given the feminist values on display it’s a damn shame that some wonderful female actors are sidelines to near-nothing parts. Alison Brie has a few moments as Katharine’s daughter, Sarah Paulson is Ben Bradlee’s sandwich-making wife and Carrie Coon is Meg Greenfield, a reporter on Ben’s team. Admittedly Brie is great as Streep’s daughter though, they have a delightful back-and-forth chemistry, talking over one another in a very natural manner. The presences of all these actresses are always felt, and they all do good work, often at vital moments of the plot, it’s just disappointing that they didn’t each get at least a second time to shine.
That’s hardly surprising given the calibre of the cast though, as elsewhere we have Bruce Greenwood as US Secretary of Defense and heart of the scandal Robert McNamara, Bradley Whitford as one of Katharine’s villainous board of advisors, Michael Stuhlbarg as Abe Rosenthal, the editor of the New York Times, Matthew Rhys as the informant who provides the secret documents, Bob Odenkirk and David Cross reuniting as other members of Ben’s team and Jess Plemons and Zach Woods showing up as part of The Post‘s legal department. That list is only the highlights, this is a very deep and rich cast, but where Spielberg assembled a similarly varied and talented group of actors for something like Saving Private Ryan, which took the time to establish great character and chemistry amongst the phenomenally impressive set pieces, here there’s very little time spent with everyone working together. There’s always a degree of confrontation and acrimony, all too busy rushing around to leave any impression on the viewer. Also, this isn’t a long film – it’s under two hours, which given the director, cast and subject matter, I find incredibly surprising. It’s rare that I say a film should be longer, but perhaps if there was a little more breathing room in the script, or if it dealt only with Katharine’s progress or the government scandal, not both, then this may have been more effective. Given those two halves are tightly wound around each other it would presumably be very difficult to successfully extricate them, so a longer run-time or perhaps even a TV mini-series would have been a better format.
One element that I did love, however, was seeing the newspapers assembled and running in the factory. I love machinery, I love watching things work fluidly, and I’m a fan of seeing the laborious, highly skilled methods of production that have since become outdated, losing a lot of the art involved in the process. Thus the film’s final moments are a joy to behold, watching typefaces being set and printing, and these giant towers of folded newspapers snaking around a factory and out into the world. Just beautiful.
Choose Film 6/10