Sunday, 28 January 2018

The Post (2017)

Based on real events of the 1970s, The Post shows viewers the battle that the newspapers, and specifically The Washington Post, went through as they attempted to publish extracts from classified documents that revealed damning details of politicians and presidents who led America, step by step, right into the folly that was the Vietnam War.

Lots of people are giving love to The Post, partly because it has a typical level of technical expertise you would expect from director Steven Spielberg and partly because the battle between the press and the White House resonates with a lot of people watching the current events that have given us terms such as "alternative facts" and "fake news". If ever there was a time for this movie then that time is now.

Unfortunately, and let me say I have thought about this long and hard, it really isn't that good a film.

It works as a statement, as a piece of art created specifically to fire a reminding warning shot to those who think that the press is just expected to relay soundbites without questioning people in positions of authority, but it doesn't work as a satisfying cinema experience, for two main reasons.

First, you have the script by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer. It's a strangely messy tangle of different strands, from the investigative journalist who first broke the story to boardroom meetings about The Washington Post moving from private ownership to a company with public shareholders, from the relationships between the various writers and staff to the truncated snippets of the trial that would prove so important for the freedom of the press.

Second, you have the cast. Meryl Streep is as good as ever, playing Katharine Graham, owner and publisher of The Washington Post, and Tom Hanks is also his usual reliable self in the role of Ben Bradlee, editor in chief at the paper, but the rest of the cast is either wasted (Sarah Paulson, Alison Brie, Jesse Plemons) or made up in a way that will take you out of the movie as you figure out who is under the heavy make up (Bruce Greenwood, David Cross, Bradley Whitford). Bob Odenkirk and Tracy Letts are two other exceptions, both given decent scenes without having to be heavily disguised.

Third, and perhaps most damaging of all, the film feels too busy being smug when it could be spending more time dissecting the core issue. Those who know the tale, or are aware of The Washington Post, should know the outcome, and they should know, considering the time period, what comes next, so that could have been the background to something looking more closely at how the battle built up on both sides of the divide. Replace all of the talk of the stock market with scenes instead showing meetings in the White House laying out their opposition, perhaps even spitballing ideas that they realised they wouldn't be allowed to follow through on, and the whole thing may have felt more intense.

Maybe it's just me. The film has already garnered a lot of love, and I might remain in the minority here. But I still advise people to approach with trepidation. It's a decent story, and there are some great performances, but Spielberg doesn't create the magic you would expect. Very disappointing.


A disc is available to order here.
Americans can order it here.

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