If it feels like the latest film from Steven Spielberg, The Post, seemingly came out of nowhere, that’s because it kind of did. It was announced in March, and principal photography began toward the end of May. Oh, and did I mention that was all this year?
Written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, The Post is about the discovery of a government cover-up of the situation over at Vietnam, and how publisher, Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), editor, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), and their team of reporters at the Washington Post find themselves going head to head with the government when they get a hold of the leaked Pentagon papers in mid-to-late 60s.
Spielberg talked about how he was in the middle of post-production for Ready Player One when he read the script for The Post, and he decided to quickly shoot the thing and set it up for release because he felt this was a story that had to be told today. That sentiment runs throughout the film, giving it a timely and relevant punch, especially at points when we cut to Nixon ranting and raving in the White House about “those damn reporters” like a child having a fit. It’s like the film grabs you by the shoulders and screams “it’s happening today, it’s like this right now!” A tad heavy handed? Sure. Effective? You bet it is.
Fitting alongside his recent films like Lincoln and, especially, Bridge of Spies, The Post takes an almost Capra-esque approach to its story and characters. The points the film make are blunt, and straightforward, but executed in a way that is pointed and never loses focus. It’s an earnest ode to the power and necessity of the press and the idea to hold those in political power accountable for their actions and exposed when there is wrongdoing. And with Kay being the first female newspaper publisher, there is an added feminist angle with her entering what is essentially a boy’s club, and proving her worth and her ability to make the tough decisions that come with the job, even if there is a chance of serious blowback.
That’s all well and good if this were any other film by any other director, but this is Spielberg we’re talking about, so naturally his craftsmanship shines through spectacularly. His regular cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski, brings his A-game, and if you watched Spotlight, and thought it was visually dry, Kaminski goes full throttle here, maneuvering his camera, capturing moments like the printing of a newspaper as if it were an action sequence (which it sort of it, thematically). It’s not just through the script, but also the camera, where it’s clear how much the filmmakers love the process, of investigation, of printing, of everything the paper stands for. It’s also the most overt crowd pleaser Spielberg has made in a while. He throws you into the lives of these characters, and really setting up what’s at stake if the newspaper isn’t able to report on the Pentagon papers. The urgency in every frame is palpable, and watching reporters like Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) do their jobs is thrilling and satisfying to watch unfold.
However, it’s not quite perfect, there are a few drawbacks, especially as it kicks into the final act, which feels very rushed. There’s an odd choice where it seems like we’re getting an extended sequence with the Supreme Court, but it simply cuts to later, and the decisions by the judges are just told to us. And as timely as the film is, I think – compared to Lincoln and Bridge of Spies – The Post might not age as gracefully. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s worth noting that Spielberg seems to have sacrificed timelessness so he can really capture the urgency necessary to make this feel like a very direct response to what is happening right now.
Despite those minor complaints, The Post is a really effective and rousing piece of filmmaking. One that blatantly holds a mirror to our society today, and serves as a celebration to the power of journalism, and the courage to face the never ending battle to confront the abuse of political power, no matter how high that power might go. Hanks and Streep are great, as you’d expect, but Bob Odenkirk really shines here, and with a supporting cast with the likes of Sarah Paulson, Tracy Letts, David Cross, Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons, Bruce Greenwood, Bradley Whitford, and Pat Healy, among many others, there isn’t a single weak link here. Even when Spielberg is basically working on a side project within a tight timeframe, he still brings that elegance, care, and eye for detail that can elevate any material. It may seem predictable, perhaps familiar, especially under the shadow of recent Best Picture winner Spotlight (which Josh Singer also co-wrote), but I was thoroughly riveted and left the film feeling a sense of optimism, and considering the times we live in, that is worth something.