Steven Spielberg‘s proliferation goes without saying and his status as one of the most important filmmakers of all time is undeniable. And not content with being pigeonholed into any specific genre, he continuously negotiates a legacy that divides science-fiction, fantasy, drama and historical context carefully. His film Temple of Doom was quickly followed by The Color Purple and Jurassic Park was accompanied by Schindler’s List. The Lost World and Amistad, Minority Report and Catch Me If You Can, War of the Worlds and Munich, The Adventures of Tin-Tin and War Horse, are just some examples that shape his filmography. And as he gears up for the release of Ready Player One later this year, he delivers one of his most inconspicuous films to date, The Post.
Starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, the film depicts the true events surrounding the release of the Pentagon Papers, a series of newspaper publications by The New York Post and The Washington Post that revealed classified government cover-ups regarding the war in Vietnam. It was a significant moment in history, marking the first time free-press had gone to war with the government. Those articles signal an important moment in time, and while the term “The Pentagon Papers” has become part of American vernacular, it could be argued that the story behind the expose is relatively unknown to most.
In and of itself the film is unremarkable. In telling the infamous story, it also adheres to a familiar brand of storytelling that many have used before, and with films like All The President’s Men, The Paper and Spotlight setting the tone for contemporary pressroom drama, Spielberg relies on his script and the weight of his performances to bring it home. Streep and Hanks deliver effortless turns and elevate the talk-heavy script into a compelling dramatic thriller that contorts a sterile office environment into a hotpot of excitement and surprise. Wasting no time, The Post hits the ground running and maintains its stamina throughout the entire 115-minute duration, and choosing to focus only on the fundamentals of the event, it sifts out formalities such as the Supreme Court hearing in order to make the story as comprehendible to the average viewer as possible.
The supporting ensemble surrounding the two leads is impressive, and somewhat unexpected. The paring of Bob Odenkirk and David Cross (the comedy partnership of Mr Show) is inspired casting, and both flex dramatic muscle. Odenkirk is no stranger to drama, of course, however Cross impresses more so as a newcomer to the genre. Other players include Tracy Letts, Sarah Paulson, Bruce Greenwood and Bradley Whiteford, amongst others. Their roles are all limited by varying degrees, yet all bring a level of quality that we have come to expect from a Spielberg drama.
Curiously, The Post serves as an unofficial prequel to Alan J. Pakula’s Oscar winning film All The President’s Men, starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford. That film told the story of The Washington Post‘s expose on the Watergate Scandal and takes place immediately after the events in this film, a fact that isn’t lost on Spielberg as he crafts a very similar atmosphere and tone.
Spielberg has said that he felt compelled to make the film as quickly as possible after the script landed on his desk, seeing it as a timely story, ripe for today’s political climate. He was not wrong. The Post reflects contemporary America with startling familiarity, and there are moments when the social commentary of our current time is flagrantly obvious. And yet, it doesn’t side with a left or right position, but rather serves as a cautionary tale of how similar polarising politics have fared in the past.
Spielberg and co. could never have predicted the state of Hollywood while making the film either, and its release seems appropriate and fortuitous amongst the galvanising sexual misconduct that is exposing the true extent of criminal behaviour in the industry. With The Post’s strongest theme being one of gender politics and the struggle of one woman’s voice amongst a corporate swarm of men, the studio couldn’t find a better time for release if they tried.
The term “Oscar Bait” gets thrown around amongst the more cynical of moviegoers, and while I avoid using the phrase myself I understand the implication, which is why I don’t think it necessarily applies to The Post. It’s too modest and unassuming, regardless of the calibre of talent behind it, and while many may disagree, I don’t see it as a film seeking award recognition; nor, it could be argued, does it truly deserve any. It is a simple film told in a compelling way with good performances and smart writing. It is also a wonderful example of Spielberg’s ability to churn out contrasting cinema while still in the process of finishing previous work.
THE REEL SCORE: 8/10