Steven Spielberg’s The Post is a solid, though not exceptional, retelling of the events leading up to the 1971 publishing of The Pentagon Papers, brought to prominence by notorious whistleblower, Daniel Ellsberg. The focus here is on The Washington Post and their decision as to whether they should follow the story or not. Paraphrasing Shakespeare, its best described as a conundrum of whether to publish or not to publish.
The film’s setting in the offices of The Washington Post is interesting in that it allows The Post to become almost a prequel of sorts to the much superior film from forty one years ago, All the President’s Men. This was the catalyst that would eventually lead to the Nixon administration’s decision to hire a crack team to break into the Watergate hotel, eventually toppling that presidency. The Pentagon Papers would have lasting reverberations, the likes of which are still being felt today.
The central players here are Kathryn Graham (Meryl Streep) and Washington Post editor, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks). Graham has recently been installed as publisher and is feeling the burdens that come along with the job. Bradlee is the controlled editor who keeps a tight leash on his reporters and a close eye on his competitor, The New York Times. When he comes across information that the rival paper is going forth with the Pentagon Paper story it weighs mightily on him as to whether his own paper should do the same. Graham, of course, has her own problems as she weighs the multiple ramifications that go along with publishing such a potentially incendiary story such as the one at hand.
There are several problems with the film. The first and most obvious one is that Spielberg and company can’t seem to decide on which story they’re going to tell. The two basic threads here are, chiefly, Kathryn Graham’s personal story and additionally, a look at the legal/moral/ethical ramifications that publishing a story like this might have on our society. These two halves never seem to coalesce and appear to be at odds with one another through most of the film, which gives The Post something of an identity crisis.
The secondary problem with the film is Spielberg’s tendency to want to go big with scenes that require more nuance and would be more effectively executed in a smaller manner. The direction is sure footed and, along with the superb technical contributions from all involved and the first rate acting, there’s a lot to admire. I just wish that The Post didn’t suffer from the inevitable comparison to that aforementioned film from the mid 70s which covers similar ground. Perhaps that something that couldn’t be avoided but it doesn’t do The Post any favors.
Photo: Hanks & Streep in The Post
AMC Hickory’s website shows The Post playing as of January 12.
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