Title: The Post
Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote:
MARGE: We saved the newspaper from the day Lisa was born.
LISA: [reading] "Mondale to Hart: Where's the beef?"
BART: Where's the beef? What the hell does that mean?
HOMER: [laughing] "Where's the beef." No wonder he won Minnesota.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Newspapers are relevant again. Wait, this took place almost 50 years ago.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Three Agent Coulsons out of five.
Tagline: "Uncover the truth."
Better Tagline: "Print is dead."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: The Washington Post has long been considered a lesser sibling to the venerable New York Times, esepcially under the stewardship of Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep), the first female newspaper publisher in the country. But when the Post gets a copy of a leaked Pentagon report proving the U.S. has been misleading the American public about actions in Vietnam over the course of four Presidential Administrations, Graham and editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) have to decide if publishing their findings is worth bringing down the wrath of the Nixon White House.
"Critical" Analysis: Just in time for the end of Trump's first year in office, Steven Spielberg's latest movie arrives to tell the story of the last time the American press faced a serious attack from its own government. The difference: the assault on the New York Times and later the Washington Post by the Nixon Administration came through official channels (in the form of federal injunctions). The threats against today's media are less formal, but as The Post makes clear, they're no less dire.
Unfortunately, the same thing that gives The Post its sense of urgency is what heralds its irrelevance.
The Post has all the hallmarks of a Very Important Film, and Spielberg, as usual, has assembled a boffo cast. In addition to a gruff (yet still avuncular) Hanks and an expectedly first-rate Streep, you’ve got Bob Odenkirk as assistant managing editor Ben Bagdikian, Matthew Rhys as Daniel Ellsberg, Carrie Coon as Post writer Meg Greenfield, and cinema’s man of the year for 2017*, Michael Stuhlbarg as Times editor A.M. Rosenthal.
There's also that John Williams score and those Janusz Kaminski filters, giving the film a gravitas it never fully earns. For every speech (Bradlee's, especially) is perfectly on the nose, and it feels almost as if the cast is a second away from breaking the fourth wall and reminding us why the First Amendment is important, and stuff.
But while watching The Post, it's impossible to ignore what's already been lost. The flagships of print news are still chugging along, and yes; many have seen a reverse in declining subscrptions following the last election. But those are the exceptions; smaller papers — including former stalwarts like The Village Voice and the parent paper of this here blog — have shuttered for good. Billionaires are buying up or shutting down publications and news sites that they don't agree with, while our own President refuses to acknowledge information coming from any source other than the GOP's propaganda arm.
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Really, the most successful undercurrent of The Post is Graham's awakening to her true calling after a lifetime of privilege and hobnobbing with celebrities. One suspects this was more of an emphasis in Liz Hannah's original script, but with the very foundations of the Republic currently under assault, it's perhaps understandable that Spielberg decided to go for the bigger message.
[Graham's self-actualization also raises another question: since the epilogue of The Post basically serves as a segue into All the President's Men (it's literally the journalism nerd equivalent of the Darth Vader massacre scene in Rogue One), iwhy the hell wasn't Graham in *that* movie (AtPM, not Rogue One)?]
Spielberg's intentions are certainly noble, and there's no denying the threat to the fourth estate posed by the current Administration, but — competent filmmaking aside — it smacks of too little, too late. The Post is a call to arms for a battle that's already mostly lost.
*Stuhlbarg’s in The Post, The Shape of Water, and Call Me By Your Name. And he's great in all of them.