Steven Spielberg’s movies are either a fun time or a boring lecture. Those who have stuck around with his work for so long would already be able to recognize his trademarks regardless of the sort of films he makes whether it be his usual sentimentality or father-child issues – because they’ve pervaded the many sorts of films he makes whether they be fun for the masses or a historical drama. Quite frankly, I’ve never exactly been the hugest fan of many of Spielberg’s historical dramas (although Schindler’s List may be an exception I still have my own reservations about its handling of the subject matter) so The Post was not going to be a high priority for me. But after having been pleasantly surprised with Bridge of Spies, I figured it was worth giving a chance – and I’m glad I gave one to The Post.
The subject matter of The Post is set to make it one to be discussed within the current political climate, especially with the fact that Donald Trump is in office. Telling the true story of the journalists from The New York Times and The Washington Post who published pieces of classified information regarding coverups that have lasted through four presidencies, The Post tells a story about another battle. Not one that takes place out in the open but one about the freedom of speech especially inside of a government that only wants its people to know the good rather than the truth, and what lengths it will take for the journalists to have their own society hearing the truth about what they see around themselves.
Being set during the Richard Nixon era of America, The Postdoesn’t shy away from comparing Donald Trump’s administration to that of Richard Nixon, who resigned at the hands of the Watergate scandal. Normally, this isn’t the sort of material that I would have expected Steven Spielberg of all people to cover but his approach to the subject matter, while sometimes suffering at the hands of his typical heavy-handedness, is effective. It’s effective because it’s frighteningly resonant when you know how much about Nixon’s presidency, censoring the press against their own will, reminds oneself of Trump’s own deeming of “fake news” against outlets that criticized him or his usual denial of saying whatever in spite of recorded evidence showing otherwise. It feels like a nice response against that notion, which keeps the film afloat.
Is this subject matter particularly anything eye-opening? After All the President’s Men went after Nixon not very long after his own resignation, the subject matter of The Post isn’t shocking. But I think that’s where Spielberg’s usual trademarks become noticeable – since they don’t exactly fit when it comes to telling a story along these lines. The Nixon era was horrifying enough from the way it sounds, because of how much he tried to cover up, and knowing how Spielberg has built his name on being a fantasist, the optimism doesn’t always fit. It’s always been bothersome to me when Spielberg takes on more serious subject matter because when you know those moments come, they feel distracting. And given how much of this centers around the Washington Post, you can only expect that the New York Times would play a bigger role – but they’re only there in the background for the classified documents to rest.
However, what does make up for the distracting moments of Spielberg’s trademarks would be how Spielberg is as an actor’s director. Tom Hanks is charming as always, but I also think it may likely go understated how effective Bob Odenkirk is here. Most of the supporting cast is able to carry The Post better than its two leads, even for as good as Tom Hanks may be – but Meryl Streep doesn’t seem to be doing much here. Given as Streep is playing Kay Graham, notable as the first female publisher of a major American newspaper, you would expect that she or even her daughter Lally, the editor, would have much bigger roles but they just feel present for the mere sake of it. It also doesn’t help that the usual Spielberg-isms come clear through how he portrays their family dynamics (also evident via Tom Hanks and Sarah Paulson), and they seem to distract from the bigger picture and at their worst, remove the tension the environment should create.
The Post is yet another Spotlight, but it’s easier for me to argue in favour of this film because even if it may be designed as clear Oscar bait, Spielberg still directs the material well enough to be at the very least engaging. One would already know how this film is expected to play during the current political climate of America, and that’s what it was made for – something I think that would be hard to deny. I just think it would have been stronger if it wasn’t keeping too much at a mere tease given the lack of screentime for many who would have played integral roles in this uncovering. It’s no All the President’s Men, but probably a nice reminder to come back to said film.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via 20th Century Fox.
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Screenplay by Liz Hannah, Josh Singer
Produced by Steven Spielberg, Kristie Macosko Krieger, Amy Pascal
Starring Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Bradley Whitford, Carrie Coon, Sarah Paulson, David Cross, Alison Brie, Jesse Plemons, Matthew Rhys, Bob Odenkirk, Michael Stuhlbarg, Pat Healy, Tracy Letts, Zach Woods
Release Year: 2017
Running Time: 116 minutes