Jacob Richardson | 21/01/2018
Spielberg’s taut political news thriller is anchored by tremendous performances, kinetic camera work and an admirable level of respect for the audience.
Following publisher of the Washington Post, Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), and her hot headed editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), The Post explores a cover up that spanned four US Presidents. After the New York Times breaks the story, they face an injunction from an Attorney-General and the story that has so enraptured the public, of four Presidents and their lies to the American people about wanting peace while they secretly strove for war in Vietnam, seems lost. But then Ben and his hound dog reporter Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) track down the New York Times’ source and the leaked file, allowing the then fledgling paper to get ahead of the race. Kay and Ben have a tremendous decision to make; do they publish, even though it could risk closure of the paper, fly in the face of the Attorney General’s censure and land them both in jail?
Spielberg brings a vivacity to this tale that was unexpected. His camera, particularly in some newsroom scenes, tracks handheld as figures cross the sea of reporter desks. The shaky camera brings a nervous energy to these scenes, and indeed is reminiscent of Spielberg’s approach to the picture as a whole. When dealing with such a documented period of history, with such reliance on accuracy to the events and story, there is limited ability to add dramaticism. And while doubtlessly this film is crammed with imagined conversations, for the most part it doesn’t feel like scenes are added, or events are imagined, for dramaticism. Instead, Spielberg lets the camera draw you in; not just with these long, nervous takes but also with some rapid-fire editing more reminiscent of The Big Short than The BFG.
When you’ve got a cast as large and admirable as this, it’s hard not to go in expecting to be blown away by the acting. But here, Hanks and Streep put on a masterclass that manages to defy even the highest of expectations. Hanks is tremendous as the blustering, striving Ben Bradlee; bringing a strange blend of chauvinism and respect that conflicts us in our enjoyment of him. It’s the same with Kay though, who starts the film very much in the pocket of the politicians. Streep brings Kay to life in an ephemeral, wispy way; she’s not a ‘presence’ so much as Streep’s characters so often are, but rather seems to be missed in and amongst the high-flying men that surround her. It’s a nice arc to play, but both Streep and Spielberg are careful to not let cinematic trope get too much in the way of narrative realism, and her eventual redemption is done not with some rousing speech, but rather a hurried decision and a declaration that “I’m off to bed”.
The supporting cast, large as it is, all gets little moments that make them shine. Bob Odenkirk has a wonderful scene where he drops a bunch of coins as he struggles to make a payphone call, Sarah Paulson delivers an impassioned explanation of Kay’s position and Bruce Greenwood has fun spinning on a dime from kind to demanding as he argues with Kay. It takes a true master of cinema to so seamlessly give every member of such a large cast it’s due, but we really shouldn’t expect anything less from Spielberg.
While there isn’t anything technically at fault with The Post, there is the feeling that this is nothing new. Brief flashes of difference, like the rapid fire editing when focusing on the New York Times building, are thoroughly enjoyable, but they’re few and far between. It’s a great film, but for Spielberg, at least, it’s a safe one. And if The Post preaches anything, it’s about risk taking in the insurance of civil liberties and freedom. Which makes it ironic that here, Spielberg seems anything but risky.
The Post won’t surprise you; it’s a brilliant film, with a tremendous cast and a director on his A game.