It’s easy to look at director Steven Spielberg’s newest movie, The Post, and think it’s just a movie made to win awards.”Oscar Bait” is a term thrown around a lot, usually at overly dramatic films that usually release right before the year ends. The Post is certainly a movie that falls into this category, but the fantastic performances and direction help keep this film from feeling familiar.
Set during the Vietnam War, The Post focuses on the journalists of the Washington Post who are still struggling to gain national recognition. The newspaper is now under owner Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) who is taking her company public on the stock market. During this time various top-secret government documents are starting to leak through The New York Times and the paper’s editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) is desperately wanting to get involved. He gets his wish when he and his writers come across thousands of top-secret documents that would put them in the crosshairs of the United States government.
Where The Post succeeds is in its moment to moment action as Hanks is a driving force for the main story. Watching Bradlee fight for the freedom of the press is compelling and his fiery determination can be felt in every frame. While Streep gives a great performance, this is clearly Hanks’ film. Ben is a fascinating character and his status as an outsider with the rest of The Washington Posts’ board makes for some compelling drama. You want to root for Bradlee from the very beginning. Ben is instantly likable but has enough faults to make his character arc captivating from start to finish. A lot of this comes from the actor’s performance and great chemistry with the rest of the cast.
In contrast, Streep is actually the weak link in this movie. It’s clear Speilberg has a lot to say about Kay Graham but it never feels like there is enough time to fully explore her. This is a character drama, but The Post is torn between focusing on two separate individuals. Hanks overshadows Streep in every scene they are in which hinders not only our perception of Kay but our ability to connect. Some of this is done purposely as Kay suffers from indecisiveness and what appears to be a fear of public speaking. Her character is afraid to make tough decisions and a lot of this changes over the course of the film.
Yet, when the time finally comes for her to step up it feels overshadowed by Ben’s own success. She’s never given a chance to really breathe and gets lost in all the chaos. This is a shame since Streep gives a great performance that will certainly land her an Oscar nomination. As for the rest of the supporting cast, they all deliver with Bob Odenkirk’s Ben Bagdikian and Bradley Whitford’s Arthur Parsons leading the charge. None of the supporting cast really stumbles, but they simply exist to move the plot along. Parsons’ is a decent antagonist for Kay, yet he never feels like a match for Ben. In fact, virtually nothing challenges Ben outside of the need to publish or not.
This makes up the crux of The Post’s issues, as the big conflict never feels tangible because we know how it ends. Obviously, the papers go through and get published so we are left to wait and see how that happened. Sadly, the journey is not nearly as intriguing as the actual ending to the movie itself. A lot of this stems from Speilberg focusing on a “Will they publish or won’t they publish angle” to which we already know the answer. It becomes difficult to invest in the drama itself, so we are left to try and follow the character’s own personal struggles. Kay’s make up the majority of this and Ben just serves as her cheerleader to inspire and push the woman to move beyond her personal hang-ups and ideology.
However, The Post is still a ton of fun and an entertaining time for those interested in one of the most important moments in American journalism. The cast is clearly game for anything and Speilberg has injected enough wit and humor to keep the story from slowing. Backing this up is some fantastic cinematography and sound design that perfectly captures the drama and era. The Post is a solid film that is only weighed down by the lack of compelling drama for Ben and the rushed ending. Thankfully, the great script, fantastic performances, and fascinating subject propels The Post past its competition and makes it a must-see.