THE POST Review: 7 out of 10 (The Pen is Mightier than the ...oh... Whatever)
That is the sound of me tearing apart Spielberg’s “Film Auteur” card. Hollywood still seems to overrate his work based on this director’s laurels. It isn’t that he doesn’t still produce decent films. He does. But for a visionary director that produced films for three decades, the last decade has been a stack of average mediocrity. The filmmaker who stands on a career of JAWS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, THE COLOR PURPLE, EMPIRE OF THE SUN, JURASSIC PARK, SCHINDLER’S LIST, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. MINORITY REPORT, and CATCH ME IF YOU CAN does not match with the same director of THE TERMINAL, KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, WAR HORSE, LINCOLN, BRIDGE OF SPIES, THE BFG, and now…THE POST. The latter list of films are fine, but many are forgettable. They lack distinction. And to look at those lists side by side, one could argue that the initial list is a film full of vision, wonder, and voice. The latter list is a list of serviceable movies but seem more along the lines of directors like Barry Levinson or Ron Howard. They make good movies but they are workmanlike and never seem to be as great as they could've been. It is hard to call them disappointing, but they aren't exactly memorable either.
In other words, THE POST. A film that hits all the right beats, has fine performances but isn't even the 3rd best movie about journalism in the last 5 years or so.
Set in the early 1970s, the film stars Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, and a cavalcade of other stars clamoring for a Spielberg film likely. And everyone does fine here. Streep is out there "Streepin" her "Streepness" as she plays Kay Graham--a debutante woman from the elite class whose family has owned the Washington Post paper for generations. Hanks is Ben Bradlee--a grumpy editor who is trying to break out of the local paper status and into the mainstream. Hanks actually seems a bit out of his depth as America's leading man who is clearly trying to be cantankerous but still ends up being charming. Neither seem to offer a performance and move into the character--unless it turns out that Kay Graham actually behaved much like Meryl Streep would have and Ben Bradlee was a cranky charmer in real life. Otherwise, it is really just watching Streep and Hanks playing...well...Streep and Hanks. The paper is put under fire when the "Pentagon Papers" surface showing all sorts of government scandals and secrets regarding the handling of the Vietnam War. Graham and Bradlee face some difficult choices in the power of the pen and the ethics of the freedom of the press when they try to decide how far they should go with what they have and what they know...while the White House breathes down their neck with threats.
Sound familiar? It should. This film is pretty overt in trying to offer commentary on the current political mood of the country with cries of "fake news" and the media crying of the death of the First Amendment. The film seems to spend far more time, however, considering this idea of freedom of the press than actually showing these reporters getting the story. The sequence where Odenkirk's Ben Bagdikian is running down his leads to discover copies of these papers and protect his sources is the only hint of real tension here. There is some nice growth in the character of Kay Graham as she finds her footing in a man's world and asserts some agency. However, even that change seems to happen quickly and without much reasoning. In the end, the whole film seems like a placeholder. It is fine, but fails to achieve something great. The tension of the film fails to grow and the movie never really goes in an interesting direction. And if a film is going to be predictable, it needs better payoff. And this film gives it just enough to be...OK. THE POST is a cautionary historical tale that reminds the audience (over and over again) of the importance of the freedom of the press. And if anyone is looking for that message to be preached with a few good (but not standout) performances and a film that holds (but doesn't demand) your attention--then it has my recommend.