Spielberg. Streep. Hanks. You don’t need to know anything else, because you’re already in, right? That The Post is a rousing docudrama about the importance of the freedom of the press—particularly in the face of a lying, vindictive president—is just gravy, right? Sure. And The Post will deliver.
It will give you Hanks as a grimacing everyman battling for the American Way the way it ought to be. It’ll give you Meryl Streep in a resplendent gold kaftan, delivering a powerful monologue or two about the role of the press, and the unfair subjugation of women in the workplace. Spielberg will make the whole endeavor feel important with a grave tone sparked by charismatic performances, by low-angle hero shots during big emotional moments, and by relying on John Williams’s stealthy score.
Streep stars as Kay Graham, the first female newspaper publisher, and owner of The Washington Post during the pivotal moment when top-secret government files were unearthed, revealing four U.S. Presidents had participated in a cover-up over the truth of the Vietnam War. Should they publish these papers? Graham’s hard-nosed and idealist editor, Ben Bradlee (Hanks), thinks so! The rest of the cast is positively packed with notable actors like Sarah Paulson, Alison Brie, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons, and Michael Stuhlbarg.
It’s good stuff. You’ll watch The Post and think of movies like All The President’s Men, The Paper and Network. And then maybe you’ll realize those movies are all decades old. And that maybe why you’re thinking of them is because this movie feels like it could be decades old. It’s a good, reliable drama. It’s also safe, predictable Oscar bait with nothing new to say.
There are no real risks here. Spielberg does his Spielberg thing, making a stirring movie about how a small group of brave individuals can make history. He knows this dance, he’s done it for years with Saving Private Ryan, Amistad, Schindler’s List, Munich, Lincoln, and Bridge of Spies. There’s a love of the dance in The Post, but the steps are stale.
Streep offers an expectedly strong performance, transforming from sheepish to stalwart. And The Post plays at feminism by taking every opportunity to have men talk over and down to THE Meryl Streep before she declares how things have changed for women. And if that’s not enough to make your pussy hat-wearing heart thump, there’s a heavy-handed scene where a bunch of women mutely nod in solidarity/respect of her, and then another where a female character spells out the movie’s empowering message to #allwomen. But Graham’s is a story of a wealthy white woman who took a stand, thereby the safest/most commercial feminist message possible.
Hanks is great, because goddamn, don’t we want Tom Hanks to come and save America from all the scoundrels? Don’t we love to see him be hard-ass, but spin on heel to play doting dad to a lemonade-selling little girl? And if anybody is going to get in Meryl’s face, don’t we want it to be Hanks, who would never disrespect her by mansplaining? Of course. And so The Post is good.
We’re at the time of year where studios are strategically releasing their very, very best, positioning them for the biggest burst of buzz ahead of award season. And in this environment, good is just not good enough.
Look. Watching this charming ensemble whirl through sets and Janusz Kaminski’s camera effortlessly tracks them, is thrilling. Taking in great actors debating the role of the press feels exciting and important, yes, especially now. Seeing Nixon’s pushback on the newspaper and hearing his smug spitting about blacklisting those that don’t play ball is infuriatingly relevant. And one montage, where WaPo’s reporters are sprawled across Bradlee’s living room sorting through a sea of information as deadlines loom? It made this reporter’s heart thump wildly with pride and hope. And yet, it’s not enough.
December demands a higher standard than the old reliable. It’s time for bigger swings, bolder risks. As I look back on the hundreds of movies I’ve watched in 2017, I consider which will make my top ten. I think on what riveted me, rattled me, and awed me. I remember monster movies that are really about monstrous men. I revel over horror movies that dared to challenge audiences. I tear up over superhero movies that were so much more than exciting. I cheer over films so strange it seems a gift they got made at all. Then I think how Spielberg, Streep, and Hanks are practically guaranteed a clear path to Oscar’s big night. And I can’t help but feel disappointed.
Still, you won’t want to miss The Post.
The Post opens December 22nd in limited release. A wide release will follow on January 12th, 2018.