*. I want to start out by saying that while I’m not a big fan of Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep, or Tom Hanks I still went into this one with an open mind. They’re all talented, it’s just that I don’t like their work very much.
*. Unfortunately, The Post started off boring me and ended up being a movie I despised.
*. At the end of the movie Katharine Graham (Streep) says to Ben Bradlee (Hanks) “You know what my husband said about the news? He called it the first rough draft of history.” First, I don’t think Philip L. Graham was the first to come up with that line. Second, while a newspaper may offer a first draft of history, a movie about a story now nearly fifty years old that misrepresents history this badly has no such excuse.
*. By misrepresents I mean the way the publication of the Pentagon Papers by the New York Times (for which they won a Pulitzer) is made over into a story broken by the Washington Post, “a little local paper” (that’s what they call it) with a heroic female owner who, through this experience, is empowered. Not only is the Times nudged aside, but it’s done in a way that makes the film into a fawning love letter to Graham and Bradlee. As you would expect, given that it’s based on their memoirs.
*. For example, notice how, at the end, the press flock around the publisher and editor of the Times on the courthouse steps and ignore Graham and Bradlee? Nothing is said, but the message is clearly that she is being ignored just because she is a woman. Not because it was the Times that had been sued first, making it really their case.
*. The rest of the movie is even more heavy-handed. The script just pounds away with crude expository dialogue and preaching. It’s like there’s a flashing red light that comes on to tell us when to cheer. “If the government wins and we’re convicted, the Washington Post as we know it will cease to exist,” Bradlee is warned. To which he heroically replies: “Well, if we live in a world where the government could tell us what we can and cannot print, then the Washington Post as we know it has already ceased to exist.” Yay! Or when Graham passes through her agony in the garden party and tells her various executives that the Post is “my paper now!” Another yay!
*. The whole movie is this clumsy. When Graham goes to court a helpful young woman, presumably a student or clerk, helps her avoid the crowds outside the courtroom and then tells Graham that she works for the government. But then why is she being so kind? Because she really believes in what the Post is doing! Plus, she looks up to Graham as a role model, fighting the old boys’ club. You have to groan as you listen to this, but it actually gets worse as the clerk is humiliated by her (male) boss when she gets into the court. Come on.
*. We get it already. We can’t not get it. Anthony Lane: “If anything, we get the point too much.” Even the big line from the Supreme Court’s decision is read out loud by one of the Post reporters to a silent newsroom, like Sally Field holding up her unionize sign at the cotton mill. Freedom of the press! Yay!
*. The thing is, for all its topicality (and the film was made in a rush, at least partly in response to Donald Trump’s attacks on the press as “enemies of the people”), the points being made are just platitudes. Sexism is bad. A free press is good.
*. I don’t think anything so noble was going on. The decision to run or not to run the Pentagon Papers was a business one, and it paid off. I doubt it had anything much to do with sticking up for the Post‘s employees or the troops in Vietnam, at least at Graham’s level. And Graham herself, while not an old boy, was a wealthy heiress and member of the highest rank of society, not to mention, as her later thoughts on the subject indicate, no die-hard crusader for a free press. But this won’t do in the present political climate so we get to listen to speeches about how hard she has to struggle to make her voice heard in a man’s world and all the rest of it.
*. The script was by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer. Singer had also written The Fifth Estate and Spotlight, both of which were a lot better than this. I have to blame the crudity of the script here though for most of the film’s failings. Spielberg’s direction might have worked, but I think all the long takes with complicated dolly and tracking shots needed a boost from a more engaged score. I was wondering if this film even had a score in the first hour, and when it did arrive it just seemed to play over obvious cues.
*. As you could have bet your house on, The Post received widespread critical acclaim. Despite agreeing with its politics (how could you not?) I found it a piece of dead spin in an outdated style. It’s less a drama than a lecture, which in the present crisis of journalism is of no use at all.