By Jack Dignan
Originally Published on Salty Popcorn
It almost feels like it doesn’t need to be said. When you bring together Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, the world’s official mum and dad, on screen for the first time together and under the direction of Mr. Steven Spielberg, the following sentence is a given. But… THE POST is great. Obviously. There’s not a chance in the world that somewhere, somehow these three powerhouse talents would come together for a film anything less than extraordinary, which is why putting this film on your to-do list is a must.
Spielberg takes us back to the fast talking newsrooms of the Washington Post, 1971. The paper is struggling to maintain readership, with head publisher Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), the first female to come into such a position, under questioning for whether or not she’s capable to being in charge. Big shot editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) needs a big story fast, or else the competition will get too far ahead and the Post will be left behind in the gutter. Then, unexpectedly, the company receives a series of documents detailing classified, highly detrimental government secrets in relation to the Vietnam War. Ben and Kay are put in the uncompromising situation of choosing whether or not to publish, which could create a necessary boost in readership, but at the risk of tearing down everything they’ve worked so hard to achieve.
THE POST is a politically charged reflection of the modern media, as told through a look back at where we’ve already gone. It’s the story of the government’s desires to control the press vs. the power and necessity of not only free speech, but also the righteousness of filling the public in on information that they ought to know. For years, the government tried their best to hide their doubts and insecurities towards the failures of the Vietnam War. They looked the public in the eye and told them everything’s okay. They sent thousands of new soldiers off to basically die, knowing full well that they were fighting a lost cause. And in 1971, their facade all came crumbling down.
What ensues is a rebuttal for both sides, where characters get into heated debates over the morality and necessity of whether or not the public deserves to know what’s written in these classified papers, which detail decades of lies and corruption. It’s a thrilling portrayal of the media’s lasting impact, not just in relation to the subject matter on hand, but on people of all classes. Tom Hanks delivers an impactful, memorable speech about the state of his friendship with JFK prior to his assassination, putting the world of media and journalism into a limelight it’s not typically put in. This was the beginning of a turning point for these people and these companies, and the story is told through fascinating fast-paced dialogue exchanges high in tension and snappy in movement.
Co-writers Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, the former of which dealt with equally impactful media-related subject matter in 2015’s Best Picture winner SPOTLIGHT, manage to craft a wonderfully modern story that matches perfectly with Spielberg’s expectedly great direction. There’s no such thing as bad Spielberg. Not all of his films are fantastic, many likely to bring up the latest INDIANA JONES film as an example, but even a bad Spielberg movie remains a respectful display of masterful filmmaking. The man can do no wrong, no matter if he’s delving into wartime biopics or big blockbuster popcorn rides, and with THE POST, he’s just showing off. It’s unfair to every other director to see Spielberg still creating films this good, but good they are and as an audience member, I have no complaints.
The colour grade verges on unpleasant, but it just falls shy, using a typical Oscar-film approach that’s hit or miss based on personal preference (for me, I hate over-exposed shots, and THE POST uses them stylistically so I’m torn). But it’s the cinematography that steals the show. For a film confined to small rooms over long periods of time, Spielberg and his go-to cinematographer Janusz Kaminski manage to make the most of the camera’s movements. It’s fast and always on the roll. Kaminski gracefully maneuvers his way through various newsrooms and luxurious houses, constantly using long shots and really allowing these actors to take their time in delivering truly remarkable performances that go beyond what we expect.
There are far too many brilliant actors here to name, with not only Hanks and Streep stealing the show, but the likes of Bob Odenkirk, Jesse Plemons and Bradley Whitford, amongst others, as well. No matter what scene they’re given, whether it’s an intense confrontation of them merely remarking their children, every line is delivered with ease and perfection. Also, Michael Stuhlbarg is in this, and whenever he shows up in a film, no matter how small his role may be, you know it’s going to be good. The first act is incredibly slow in pace and does get somewhat choppy from time to time, but the performances and the direction constantly glue your eyes to the screen. Not once did I want to look away when Streep and Hanks shared a scene together.
Let’s be real though, you knew this film was going to be good. If I’m being perfectly honest, the trailer, while good, was nothing special. I wasn’t jumping with excitement in similar fashion to my excitement for PHANTOM THREAD, but I had the utmost faith in what this film was going to deliver. Every card was played right and played effectively, and what comes from it is an excellent way to really kick 2018 into gear.
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