Steven Spielberg is indisputably one of the greatest filmmakers in history. With an extensive body of work that ranges from science fiction to fantasy to historical drama, Spielberg boasts well-deserved success for his work which has influenced generations of fans and filmmakers. Unfortunately though, his latest directorial efforts with “The Post” don’t reflect his full talents.
“The Post” is a period piece that follows Katharine “Kay” Graham (Meryl Streep), the owner of her family’s newspaper, The Washington Post, who must decide whether to go through with publishing when executive editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and his staff acquire “The Pentagon Papers,” classified documents detailing the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War, which could throw the future of the paper in jeopardy.
To begin with what worked well, the film opens with suspense by depicting military analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), who photocopies the classified reports and leaks them to The New York Times. The entire opening sequence sets up the drama and conflict of the situation, particularly the government’s propensity to lie to the public about the truth of the war — despite the film’s lackluster approach in following through on this drama (more on that later).
“The Post” also boasts a strong central and supporting cast. Streep is expectedly great in her role as Kay Graham, and I found her story arc intriguing; as a woman working in a position of power in an era when that was less common to see, Kay is often drowned out by her male counterparts who value her opinions less than their own, so when Kay finds her voice, Streep does a nice job revealing that confidence. Hanks plays off her well as Ben Bradlee, who embodies this role with authority. While underutilized, these leads are surrounded by great actors, including Bob Odenkirk, Sarah Paulson, Bradley Whitford, Allison Brie and Carrie Coon (if you haven’t seen her in “The Leftovers,” stop whatever you’re doing and do so).
Despite having a solid director, set-up and cast, “The Post” falls flat in its pacing and becomes boring. After the very beginning of the film, the plot unravels through a series of conversations between different combinations of characters, whether it’s Kay Graham and Ben Bradlee, Kay and her other advisors or Ben and his staff. After awhile, this rhythm grows monotonous and frequently made me lose interest in what was happening. Part of this may stem from Spielberg’s decision to include several long takes of the actors having these conversations, and while it’s impressive to know that Streep and Hanks can memorize several minutes of uninterrupted dialogue, it doesn’t do much to drive the plot forward.
Beyond that though, I was curious as a journalism major myself to see how The Washington Post’s newsroom would operate under the weight of the bombshell of information they eventually acquire. The fast-paced nature of the newsgathering is all but lost here; we get glimpses of it toward the third act when Ben’s team is sorting through the papers — which is where the story finally gripped me — but that sense of tension is largely absent. I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to other journalism-related films, particularly the 2015 Oscar-winner, “Spotlight,” which hammered home the stakes of reporting and exposing the truth at every turn. With “The Post,” being punished by the government for your decision to report the truth is a premise that presents huge stakes. I just wish I felt them more.
The film also could have explored the impact of these documents beyond The Washington Post. I took a class that outlined some of the details of the Papers — specifically how the revelation of these papers created a gap in credibility between what the government was reporting in the States compared to what the reporters were seeing in Vietnam. This had a profound effect on both the public and the government, and while the film hints at this by depicting protests outside of courthouses as well as certain characters’ apprehensiveness regarding Kay’s choice, the larger scope of this decision is pushed aside.
When I first read the details of this film, that Steven Spielberg was directing a historical drama starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, I thought this was the biggest Oscar-bait movie I had ever heard of. Indeed, based on how this awards season has begun to shape up, you’ll likely see “The Post” nominated in a few categories — most likely a Best Picture and Best Actress nod. Regardless of its starpower, the film’s slow pacing and ignorance of the larger context surrounding the Papers kept me from sinking into the narrative.