It may be a timely reminder of the vital importance of a free and independent press but despite the zeitgeist-harnessing subject matter, there’s something that never quite stops the presses about Steven Spielberg’s “The Post”.
When explosive details of a cover-up spanning three decades and four presidential administrations come to light, the New York Times is the first to break the story. But as the government musters its full powers to prevent and further embarrassing leaks, it falls to Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep), the first female publisher of a major American newspaper, and The Washington Post’s editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) to decide whether to risk their freedom and the future of the newspaper and publish the papers.
Between the lead actors and Director Spielberg, there’s an effortless confidence on display here that could easily, in an unflattering light, be taken as smugness. Of course, Streep and Hanks are terrific in their roles, he as the brash, publish-and-be-damned newsman, she as the thoughtful but determined publisher beset by self-doubt and the doubts of the men who comprise her board of directors. There’s a straightforwardness to the narrative which Spielberg handles effortlessly and, save for a handful of electric scenes, there’s a sedate pace which saps the drama.
Superficially, it’s a somewhat ordinary movie. There are no visual flourishes or arch camera trickery just a thoroughly faithful recreation of the time period of the story – it’s quite something to see how newspapers came together to be printed back in those days. Beneath the surface, though, there’s an entire world of subtly and nuance as Spielberg uses light, colour and costume to season the visuals to perfection. The understated aesthetic is a deliberate and understandable move: the power of “The Post”, the importance of it, is in its message, not its medium. It is a warning to the present day from not so long ago.
Hopefully, it’s that cautionary example that will stay with you long after the film itself has faded. It’s a supremely well-made and well-acted movie but remarkable only in its unremarkableness despite the talent involved. It speaks to the quality and skill of all those involved when something which is undeniably very, very good still somehow feels a little bit disappointing.