The story of The Post is one that is largely fascinating, but as a film it is a story that falls prey to many of the pitfalls involved in exploring true stories that everyone already knows. It has to find a way to make things more interesting than a documentary, and when the characters aren’t quite involved exactly, it’s easy to get bogged down in the statements we hope to put forward.
In this case, the story involves Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), who runs The Washington Post following the death of her husband, and her decision to publish leaked documents that show the government had been purposely deceiving the public. This sets the stage for larger examinations on many fronts, including the problematic situation Graham finds herself in as a woman in a role that has her constantly questioned by her peers, subordinates, and random passersby. These are indeed worthy trials to focus on, and coupled with the governmental misdeeds there is a lot of story to work with when laying out the facts.
The problem is that the facts are both interesting and fantastically boring. A cursory summary of events is actually all anyone wants to know, and for good reason. The inside scoop of how we got the inside scoop, in this case, has no more gravity than simply mentioning that we got the inside scoop. The weight of potential business suicide, and theoretical jail time, is as diffused by the overwhelming impression that Graham’s husband would have done it in a second as it is hopelessly propped up by overlong scenes in which Graham all but bites her fingernails.
As the film plays through the course of events, it’s best moments seem almost accidental. Much like Spielberg’s fairly goofy War Horse, and directly counter to his overlooked Bridge of Spies, what the film pays the most attention to becomes boring by way of flamboyance and repetition, and the moments it is forced into to move the story manage to win out by relying on the simplicity and honesty of their situations. The result is that Bob Odenkirk‘s minor character steals the show over Streep and Tom Hanks, who give decent performances but clearly struggle to connect with the syrupy dramatization of events already drowning in actual drama.
Worst of all, the film seems to be devoid of confidence in its audience, including several scenes that exist for no reason other than to have Graham doubt herself yet again, or to have editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) shake his fist at the sky, yet again.
Still, Spielberg combined with this cast is only going to go so wrong, and even with a screenplay that overly holds onto eighth-grade essay formulae (tell us what you’re going to tell us, tell us, tell us what you told us) there is still a lot to keep you invested enough to be entertained. It’s a cast that doesn’t need much to pull an audience in, and the look at the inner workings of a paper during the era has a lot of value no matter what the story. It would have been nice if the screenplay spent more time dissecting than it did preaching, but it has its moments.
The new go to as the exception that proves the rule, this trip to the plug-and-play well of award hopefuls is still a good movie, but falls miles short of what it could have been.