The Post (2017)
The Post, although it’s going to win loads of awards (and already has a few), isn’t one of Steven Spielberg’s best, but that’s praising with faint damnation. This is Spielberg we’re talking about here; he’s probably one of the greatest living film-makers.
Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks were as solid as ever, and it was an excellent period piece, but the first half was somehow overly-expositionary without explaining stuff well enough for people who aren’t already up on their American political history. Basically, they spent too long setting the plot up, before it became good.
The opening Vietnam battle scene, was as atmospheric as you’d expect from the guy behind Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers and The Pacific, but I wasn’t even sure until afterwards whose perspective the audience were meant to be following, and it felt like it came from a different film entirely – the rest of the film is composed entirely of dialogue scenes.
This was a problem throughout the early stages of the film. It felt disjointed, as if the dominos were being set up in time for the second half to begin. (Hehe, a ‘domino theory’ joke.)
Also, the final scene, in which some guy interrupts a burglary at a certain hotel, didn’t fit logically into the film’s events at all. Although critical to the downfall of the film’s villain, Richard Nixon, there didn’t seem to be an obvious link to the Pentagon Papers, other than to show the length and breadth of Nixon’s corruption following his threats of reprisal against The Washington Post. (As a point of curiosity, were those telephone conversations genuine Nixon tape recordings, of which I understand quite a few were made, or an actor? EDIT: Yes, apparently they were genuine.)
How would I have improved the film? By which I guess I mean how would I have done it better than Steven Goddamn Spielberg? Well, my partner thinks it went on way too long. I’m inclined to go the other way. It could have benefited from being longer, but spending more time making us care about the characters (although Streep’s character development was done nicely), maybe conveying the importance of the historical events that characters referred to in passing (but then, this is a major period of modern US history that I assume an American audience is more acquainted with than someone from this side of the Atlantic). Also, courtroom drama. Injunctions were sought and fought and this case got to the Supreme Court of the United States, only for the film to skip over most of the arguments and then provide the result via telephone/telex in the newsroom. Spielberg can do controversial American history courtroom drama, as demonstrated in Amistad. It’s a shame we didn’t see some of that, even heavily fictionalised, here.
The film was clearly topical (and Spielberg’s said as much), with the Trump administration’s hostility to the press in its sights. Aside from several mentions of the First Amendment when discussing whether or not to publish the Pentagon Papers, this is emphasised in a slightly on-the-nose comment that Streep makes towards the end about the press being ‘the rough first draft of history’, and that even if it doesn’t always get it right, it still needs to do its job. The Post was in production for less than a year. Maybe if Spielberg had spent as much time on it as he does his other films, it would have been a more polished film.
As a final note, I spent ages trying to work out if the Washington Post lawyer that turns up midway through the film was being played by Matt Damon or not, because it didn’t look quite like Matt Damon, but then it did, and then it didn’t, and then… and then Bob Odenkirk (Saul Goodman from Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad) appeared in the same scene and I realised it was Meth Damon wearing a suit.
Hey, I didn’t think I’d get to re-use the promo image from Olympus Has Fallen quite so soon. Not trying to draw any equivalence between the two films, honest.