From the same cinematic universe as All the President’s Men, by the writer who gave us Spotlight, The Fifth Estate and 26 episodes of The West Wing, and the director who brought us incisive films about journalism such as The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, comes the prequel to the Watergate scandal, The Post. Nominated for Best Picture for no other reason than why not, The Post proves that, once and for all, making a good paranoid thriller a la 70s is not as easy as it seems, and should be left to professionals only and not attempted at home under any circumstances.
The story of Kay Graham is not as sexy as the Watergate/Deep Throat stuff (and certainly harder to confuse with sexual acts), but when you have Meryl Streep playing someone, you’re obliged by law to go see it. It’s written in the Constitution, right below the thing about Kinder Eggs being dangerous. Kay Graham happened to be the owner of The Washington Post when it was not common for women to hold positions of power, or have jobs in the public sphere. Everyone around her felt she was less than qualified for the position, and patronised her. All but editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), who was so focused on trying to raise the public profile of the newspaper he didn’t even notice his boss was a she. When secret government documents relating to the Vietnam war make their way into their offices, Graham has to decide if she is willing to risk it all for the truth.
The Post starts in the middle of the Vietnam War, goes into what seems like an The Americans rip-off for 10 minutes (doesn’t help that it’s Matthew Rhys on screen either), and then spends the remaining duration time (about 4 hours, or so it feels) between Graham’s high-class parties and The Washington Post headquarters. There are lots of papers being typed around, lines trying to become cultural relevant quotes and a camera that follows people, handheld and all, because, you know, this may be in the 70s, but it’s also very modern, wink wink. It’s hard to point out why isn’t this film better – the cast definitely is high class, though Hanks is channeling a bit too much of Keaton’s Spotlight performance at times, and the topic is, well, relevant – who doesn’t care about free press, and media’s ability to flip the bird to the establishment these days? But maybe that’s one of the issues – The Post is trying too hard to be of its times, and ends up very much in the middle of the road. Is it about sexism? Is it about making History? Is it about the importance of holding the Government responsible for their actions? Who knows – here everything is a mush, and knowing that everything was shot and edited in 6 months, one can conclude that, oh boy, can’t you tell. It doesn’t manage to hold tension; it’s not particularly visually striking or inventive; it’s even hard to know who we should care about, as Graham is hardly on the screen (and when she is, it’s surrounded by posh people at parties and fancy restaurants).
Frank Capra once said, “If you want to send a message, try Western Union”. Spielberg decided to use The Post. Worth checking for journalism films aficionados, Academy Award completists or Streep fans. For all the others, it’s time to revisit Pakula’s take on the matter.
The Post was in UK cinemas from 19th January 2018.