For a film that depicts the bravery of those willing to challenge the order of things, The Post feels standard procedure. Steven Spielberg has been making films for decades, ranging from big-budget family spectacle to painstaking Holocaust drama, but most recently, his films have felt bland; too routinely produced to provide anything more than borderline entertainment.
Over the course of four presidencies, the public has been lied to about the Vietnam war. Young men died unnecessarily to maintain the illusion of victory, as to not humiliate US leaders. Then, the truth was revealed; the Vietnam war was hopeless and nobody in power was willing to listen. Following this shocking reveal, making such classified information public was imperative, and the role of the press was made more important than ever. The New York Times begins to unveil the sad truth, but is struck with an injunction and unable to cover the issue further, shattering the illusion of a free press. After the silencing of the Times, first ever female newspaper publisher Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) corroborates with driven editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), they face a tough decision; to antagonise the government and make their knowledge public, risk everything, or to stay silent, and morph The Washington Post into a cowardly, anti-democratic publication overnight.
When the film was announced, many drew similarities with 2016’s Academy Award winner for Best Picture; Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight. However, there is a huge difference. The narrative of Spotlight revolved around a small circle of dedicated journalists gathering information to raise public awareness of a major issue. The complications that arose were not due to the publishing of information, but in discovering it, and packaging it respectfully and to the best of the paper’s ability. With The Post, however, those in charge of The Washington Post have had the information given to them, and the majority of the narrative weighs on the moral decision that Streep and Hanks’ protagonists are faced with.
“If we don’t hold them accountable who will?” probes Ben; “We can’t hold them accountable if we don’t have a newspaper,” rebuttals Kay. Their decision will have many implications, and much of the film follows the individuals as they reach their conclusion. Tension is rather scarce, as the decision they make is already knows by the audience; so, Spielberg’s task is to find a way to make this true story exciting, and is successful for the most part, but appears to make little effort in making this a powerful piece – something a more ambitious director may have been capable of. This feels like a film made by someone who is completely done with pushing the limits of their ability, and this confidence acts as a crutch.
Hanks and Streep’s performances are as one would expect. They are both fantastic performers, and provide understated performances that compliment the style of filmmaking Spielberg is becoming known for as of late. The supporting characters fail to make much of an impact, and in scenes of deliberation over the importance of specific information, Hanks holds much of the audience’s attention. The script is perfectly adequate, as reflected by almost every aspect of the production; everything is capably executed, nothing stands out as excellent. Because of this, The Post makes very little impression.
Notably, the film contains a montage detailing the process of the printing press, and the effort and artistry that producing a newspaper required. There is a clear intention to romanticise the machines and the workers who perfected their craft, and a range of close-ups stress the elegance and hardship placed on producing the broadsheet. Oddly, Spielberg’s respect for the passion one puts into one’s craft isn’t evident in his own filmmaking. None of the director’s own personality is evident in his work anymore, and while the films he makes are still of an impressive standard, they are too polished to allow any creativity to breathe. it would be great to see Spielberg make something great once again before he calls it a day, and there is still time. Although, if the director simply continues to make underwhelming albeit good films, his contribution to cinema over his career warrants this to be satisfactory.