So, I finally sat down and watched the 2017 film, The Post.
The Post is something of an odd film. Imagine if someone made a film about the production of a movie. And imagine if, instead of focusing on the actors or the members of the crew or even the director, the film was instead about the studio executives sitting back in Hollywood and debating whether or not they should agree to give the director another million dollars to complete the film. Imagine dramatic scenes of the execs meeting with their accountants to determine whether they can spare an extra million dollars. Imagine triumphant music swelling in the background as one of the execs announces that they’ll raise the budget but only in return for getting to pick the title of the director’s next film. The Post is kind of like that. It’s a film about journalism that’s more concerned with publishers and editors than with actual journalists.
To be honest, The Post‘s deification of the bosses shouldn’t really be that much of a shock. This is a Steven Spielberg film and a part of Spielberg’s legend has always been that, of all the young, maverick directors who emerged in the 70s, he was always the one who was the most comfortable dealing with the studio execs. As opposed to directors like Martin Scorsese, Brian DePalma, and Francis Ford Coppola, Spielberg got along with the bosses and they loved him. While his contemporaries were talking about burning Hollywood down and transforming the culture, Spielberg was happily joining the establishment and reshaping American cinema. No one can deny that Spielberg is a talented filmmaker. It’s just that, if anyone was going to make a movie celebrating management, you just know it would be Steven Spielberg.
Taking place in the early 70s, The Post deals with the decision to publish The Pentagon Papers, which were thirty years worth of classified documents dealing with America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Since the Pentagon Papers revealed that the government spent several decades lying to the American people about the situation in Vietnam, there’s naturally a lot of pushback from the government. It all leads to one of those monumental supreme court decisions, the type that usually ends a movie like this. And while the film does acknowledge that there were journalists involved in breaking the story, it devotes most of its attention to editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and publisher Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep).
Gasp as Ben and Katharine debate whether to publish the story!
Shudder as Katharine tries to figure out how to keep the Post from going bankrupt.
Watch as Ben Bradlee talks to the legal department!
Thrill as Katharine Graham learns that her family friends, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, weren’t always honest with her!
And listen, I get it. The Post isn’t as much about Nixon and the Vietnam War as it’s about Trump and the modern-day war on the media. And yes, we get plenty of scenes of Tom Hanks explaining why freedom of the press is important and the movie ends in typical Spielberg fashion, with triumphant music and all the rest. But watching The Post, it’s hard not to think about other films that celebrated journalism, films like All The President’s Men and Spotlight. Both of those films featured scenes of editors supporting their reporters. In fact, All The President’s Men featured Jason Robards playing the same editor that Tom Hanks plays in The Post. But Spotlight and All The President’s Men focused on the journalists and the hard work that goes into breaking an important story. Robards and Spotlight‘s Michael Keaton played editors who were willing to stand up and defend their reporters but, at the same time, those films emphasized that it was the underpaid and underappreciated reporters who were often putting their careers (and sometimes, their lives) on the line to break a story. Whereas Spotlight and All The President’s Men showed us why journalism is important, The Post is content to merely tell us.
The Post was a famously rushed production. Shooting started in May of 2017 and was completed in November, all so it could be released in December and receive Oscar consideration. Production was rushed because Spielberg, Streep, and Hanks all felt that it was important to make a statement about Trump’s treatment of the press. While I can see their point and I don’t deny that they had noble intentions, a rushed production is still going to lead to a rushed film. The Post is a sloppy film, full of way too much on-the-nose dialogue and scenes that just seem to be missing Spielberg’s usual visual spark. It feels less like a feature film and more like a well-made HBO production. Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep give performances that are all surface. Streep’s performance is all mannered technique while Hanks occasionally puts his feet up on his desk and furrows his brow.
It gets frustrating because, watching the film, you get the feeling that there’s a great movie to be made about the Pentagon Papers and the struggle to publish them. I’d love to know what the actual reporters went through to get their hands on the papers. But The Post is more interested in management than the workers.
All through 2017, The Post was touted as being a sure Oscar front-runner. When it was released, it received respectful but hardly enthusiastic reviews. In the end, it only received two nominations — one for best picture and one for Streep. In a year dominated by Lady Bird, Shape of Water, Get Out, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, The Post turned to be a nonfactor. For all the hype and expectations, it’s the film that you usually forget whenever you’re trying to remember everything that was nominated last year.