The Post (2017)

*. 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.

23 thoughts on “The Post (2017)

  1. tensecondsfromnow

    Agree with your points on the heavy-handedness of this film. As a riposte to Trump, it completely misses the point. This film is sentimental and nostalgic about a past that never was, precisely what enabled Trump and his handlers to rip apart the norms, and destroy the idea that people could have their own opinions, but not their own facts. I think the Vice/Cheney located the moment that this sprang from as the deliberate commercial creation of non-balanced news-shows, there to support rather than dispute audience prejudices, but it’s been all downhill from then on. What do you think would be a good film subject to spotlight the present crises of journalism (and politics) that the US is going through?

    1. Alex Good Post author

      Given what was already done with Vice in handling the George W. Bush administration I really don’t know how filmmakers are going to handle the Trump phenomenon. Obviously they’re toing to have to take it on, but I don’t know how. Would satire even work? Bombshell was an initial effort to talk about how the media worked together with Trump to make it happen, but it had another agenda and only really hinted at what was coming with a scene at the end. Somehow a movie is going to have to take on the new media ecosphere, which includes Facebook and QAnon and all the rest. I don’t know how they’re going to do it though.

      1. tensecondsfromnow

        Sure; it just seems like the misty-eyed reminicences of The Post just won’t cut it. We don’t need a lesson from history here, we need to get to grips with what’s happening today. Everyone seems to be passing the buck about prosecuting what is clearly an illegal coup and attack on America from within, and the longer nothing solid is done, the more chance there is that it’ll happen again. I reckon there will be dozens of movies about the current malfeasance, but it’ll take more than a movie and liberal hand-wringing to sort out this mess.

      2. Alex Good Post author

        No matter what angle is taken it’s going to be seen by roughly half the electorate as a big lie put out by liberal Hollywood elites. Those lines have been drawn.

      3. tensecondsfromnow

        I can see that. But the liberal Hollywood elite are no great help in real-world matters. They used to have a monopoly in deciding what story to tell and how, but the fantasy narrative is now coming from the news media itself. Not sure how Biden/Democrats can expect investment /jobs when half the country still thinks that they’re about to bring down the US system and replace it with a one man band. And the longer they run scared, the worse things will get; people are getting entrenched in madness right now…

      4. Alex Good Post author

        Things are going to get worse, and a lot of that is due to the way the new media are feeding it. They make their money out of the crazy.

      5. tensecondsfromnow

        Sure, but when people are keen to donate to news channels telling them what they want to hear, who can blame them? Isn’t that what the liberal channels have done for years? What’s needed is clear, decisive executive action that doesn’t leave anything to re-frame. But Biden says he is too busy, and passes it to Harris, who says she is too busy, who passes it to….and all the time the pile of dynamite under the country is growing bigger…Russia and China must be loving the farce and the tragedy that Trump’s ignorance has made of America…

      6. Alex Good Post author

        I don’t know about the clear decisive executive action part. That’s what the men on horseback are always promising. I think what was needed was more responsible politicians in general, and fewer enablers. The basic problem as I see it is that you have a right-wing party in a lot of countries today whose guiding political philosophy is the dismantling of the state. Their ideology is that all government is bad/incompetent/corrupt so they want to tear it all down. This just makes things worse, so it becomes self-affirming. It’s what happened when the Soviet Union collapsed: civil society crashed, life expectancies dropped by about 20 years, and oligarchs took over. Same as in China, more slowly, after Mao. Again, get rid of social support and let families of oligarchs take over. A lot of American elites looked at what happened in those countries and liked what they saw. That’s why they don’t see Russia as a big threat any more. It’s what they want to become.

        That’s my theory anyway.

      7. tensecondsfromnow

        Having spent a bit of time in Russia, I wouldn’t be rushing to emulate that example. I agree with your analysis, but just because the men on horseback promise something doesn’t mean what I’m suggesting is wrong. If you can jail a lawyer for carrying out the client’s illegal wishes, but not jail the client on the same evidence, they you are lighting the blue touchpaper under democracy because your country is going to be destroyed by the public celebration of inequality that ensues. It’s not the American way to admit cracks in the system, but fascists don’t take a polite no for an answer, and won’t stop attacking it until they are stopped by the law. Their activities are illegal; they must be charged, or the whole shooting match is a nonsense.

      8. Alex Good Post author

        I agree that no one would want to emulate Russia. Except the people who stand to make a fortune out of the dismantling of the state. And they’re the ones bankrolling things now. But even for them I think this is short-sighted.
        I also agree that someone like Trump should be held legally accountable. But they tried that with impeachment twice and it didn’t work. Maybe they’ll nail him on some of his other stuff. But it’s like the hue and cry that was raised about nobody going to jail after the financial crisis. People don’t realize that laws are made to protect people in positions of power and privilege and to punish the poor. When someone like Trump cruises through life without being accountable for anything, that’s the system working the way it was designed to.

      9. tensecondsfromnow

        But impeachment is political, and succeeds or fails due to numbers of political representatives elected years earlier. The action of law is different. Trump is a genuine idiot, has no idea what he’s doing, and will destroy the country if allowed. What’s surprising to me is that the rest of the country is spineless enough to let it happen. Distrusting government is one thing, allowing foreign interests to use Trump’s stupidity as a wrecking ball to the free world is another. France just jailed Sarkosy, it can happen, but American lack of anything resembling stones on all sides of the fence is a new development.

      10. Alex Good Post author

        Don’t underestimate the amount of anger there is out there. The hard right today is all about tearing everything down. That means the wrecking ball. The neoliberal elites don’t care because all it means for them is deregulation and tax cuts. The other supporters have just been whipped into a rage. They think the government is all about killing people with vaccines and running pedophile sex-slave rings. Or eating babies. It’s more than just distrusting government now.
        I wrote about this a bit here

        The end of anger

      11. tensecondsfromnow

        Yup, people can be whipped into a frenzy with lies, but not for long. It’ll be criminal to allow this to continue. As you noted, Trump never made a single right move while in office; appointing justices is about the minimum entry level, and could be achieved with a plank of wood in charge. Everything he said and did failed, and America will fail if he isn’t dealt with pronto. Lies were and remain lies, and people can and must be talked out of falsehoods. Otherwise, what’s the point? He poisoned the well, and everyone has to drink from that well. Why should the world suffer because of Trump’s innate criminality?

      12. Alex Good Post author

        I’m more pessimistic. I think people will believe lies for as long as doing so gives them some sort of high. I also think that hate trumps the truth. As for the world suffering, I don’t want to generalize too much but I’m pretty sure that Trump voters don’t care about the rest of the world. Or if they do they want to see it burn. In fact, I’m pretty sure they want to see half of their own country burn.
        I don’t blame Trump for all this, by the way. I think he’s a moron and a buffoon, but just representative of a process that’s been building up for decades. Democratic politics everywhere is under a lot of stress. I’m afraid it’s going to be unable to adapt.

      13. tensecondsfromnow

        Things aren’t great elsewhere, but right wing countries are generally failing to deal with the pandemic. The US, Brazil, India all suffered a human catastrophe due to mistaking a hard line for leadership. I’d blame the internet specifically for entrenching people in their poorly-informed views, and a lack of control of content as the source of our woes. Someone, somewhere needs to step up and stop the world drifting into the insular madness that Trump is synonymous with worldwide; a laughing stock that has made America the world’s whipping boy. But thing can change, and right now, using the existing rules of law should be first priority. I’m optimistic, but we need to clear the sh*t-stains from the Capitol walls first. This must be the low point of all time; we have to find something to gather around moving forward. And I think it’ll be the Mortal Kombat franchise.

      14. tensecondsfromnow

        ‘…can’t recall a time when there’s been so much of it. I sit across from it at restaurants, see it when I gleefully hump my over-spilling trash bags, and even encounter it when walking in the park…’

        Moving words.

      15. tensecondsfromnow

        On reflection, maybe the need to earn money is the reason that Trump will have to be jailed by someone; you can’t sell ice-creams until you jail the sniper.

  2. Over-The-Shoulder

    Have to agree with you. Subtlety, anyone? No no no, that’s just not an option. Heavy handed is the word. I *hated* that scene with the clerk outside the court – it was cringingly bad. An all star cast, but I don’t think the acting was particularly good. I’m sticking to All The President’s Men.

    1. Alex Good Post author

      Yeah, basically this is ATPM redone but without any of the same urgency and darker undertones. Also agree with the acting, but the leads were just playing cut-outs anyway.

      1. Over-The-Shoulder

        The only reason I actually watched this is because it had Bob Odenkirk (the great Saul Goodman) and David Cross (the great Tobias Fünke). And even they weren’t great. A real bore.

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