The performances are faultless, the concept is strong, the period detail is beautifully realised, so why does THE POST not quite live up to the hype? Well maybe we’re just a step removed here in the UK from the historical impact of the publishing of the Vietnam ‘Pentagon Papers’, (which exposed the fact that the Government knew Vietnam was a war they could not win, but persisted in sending troops rather than admit defeat), but maybe it’s just down to the story and the script, lacking focus.
The story is a less familiar one than the later Watergate affair, but still incurred the wrath of the Nixon administration. Procured by Daniel Ellsberg , the Pentagon Papers were originally to be printed by the New York Times, a far more prestigious paper at the time. The film follows the trail of how that fell apart and how the Washington Post got involved. So whilst it is a ‘first past the finishing post’ story, it’s not quite as simple as all that.
There is a monologue spoken by Post’s Executive Editor, Ben Bradlee’s (Hanks) wife, Tony (played by Sarah Paulson), a comment on the bravery of Kay Graham (Streep), as owner of the Washington Post, which would have given the film its emotional core strength. “Kay is in a position she never thought she’d be in — a position I’m sure plenty of people don’t think she should have. And when you’re told time and time again that you’re not good enough, that your opinion doesn’t matter as much — when they don’t just look past you, when to them you’re not even there, when that’s been your reality for so long — it’s hard not to let yourself think it’s true.”
“So to make this decision, to risk her fortune and the company that’s been her entire life? Well, I think that’s brave,”
As a widow, Graham inherited the ownership from her husband, who had actually been bestowed it from her own father, so unusually at that time putting her in the frame of being a female publisher in a man’s world. Sadly, this strand could have been so much stronger. Streep portrays her character well; she’s quiet and considered and anyone can recognize the situation she faces when she sits in a boardroom with answers to questions those around her will take credit for. She’s trying to keep the paper on track to sell it, but she is almost so recessive throughout, so submissive to other (male) advisors around her, that when strength of character is needed and manifested, it seems to come more or less out of nowhere. If the core of the story were focused on her, so much more could have been drawn from it.
For his part, Tom Hanks certainly puts in a creditable performance as Bradlee, doing his best to generate excitement and exude the ‘we need to publish or be damned’ mentality despite the risks of jail or worse. And both he, and Graham, would be liable in the eyes of the law.
And yet actually the story is really about freedom of the press. All the press – then and now. The printing of these Government papers represents something that is as relevant today as it was then – think Wikileaks for instance. The fact is, journalism has been as much under fire from Trump today as it was back in Nixon’s day. But in THE POST there are simply too many themes running throughout and not enough clarity about the importance of any one. Whilst the bigger picture of the importance of journalistic freedom is well told, it’s hard to engage with the characters. With the result that, in my view, the audience watches dispassionately and rather unengaged.
Spielberg, Hanks and Streep are for sure a dream team on paper, ably supported by the likes of Sarah Paulson, Tracy Letts and Bob Odenkirk. But it’s a solid and watchable film, just not really a classic.
It’s a 3 Hearter….. 💜💜💜
Out Friday 12th January 2018