The Post Review: Spielberg Finds Hope in History

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There’s no question while watching The Post that you’re watching a Steven Spielberg film. It’s big, bursting with emotion, and patriotic in a way that even the most downtrodden American—at a time where its very easy to find yourself downtrodden—should come out feeling all warm and fuzzy about this country as it could be in the future again. But unlike Saving Private Ryan or Lincoln, the heroes of The Post aren’t found on the battlefield or the face-side of your cash, they’re the ones’ whose duty and commitment to the truth keep things in check.

But the story of how The Washington Post, as well as The New York Times, started publishing the Pentagon Papers is far from a simple one. Spielberg starts the film with Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) experiencing Vietnam on the ground, and later trying to convince government officials that the state of the war hasn’t progressed at all. And yet, as we all know, the war soldiered on, until at least he leaked the stolen classified documents to The New York Times, who Nixon then tried to indict. So came into the story Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) and Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), the publisher and executive editor, respectively, of The Washington Post.

Aside from the questions of free press raised by the event itself, Spielberg spends a lot of time showing the force of men standing in Graham’s way, telling her what she can and can’t do with her paper. Streep obviously rises to the occasion, but this film also makes you realize that despite her undeniable screen presence, she performs every role in every movie with a layered, nuanced humanity. All it takes a slow close-up and for Streep to do the rest of the work here to show that she’s not just going through the motions. The first 45 minutes or so, however, are slow as they carefully set the dominoes to fall and Spielberg and the script juggles the attacks on both free press and womanhood.

But as the paper’s staff (a cast of TV favorites, from Better Call Saul‘s Bob Odenkirk to The Leftovers‘ Carrie Coon, who all get their moments to shine) inch closer and closer to breaking the story, the script brings these two battles and turns them into one war. From there, Spielberg just starts hammering home the emotion and tension, admittedly with most of his usual tricks. Yet The Post isn’t just a case of this big Hollywood director adding his personal brand of schmaltz to the story. He can do that in his sleep, I imagine. The sense of urgency, and the hopeful, proud feeling he leaves us on are strategically put together to feel like this film is Spielberg’s message to the citizens of Trump’s America: the truth will come out, however slowly, and it will be put together by true patriots.

The Post by its very nature is sure to put up a lot of Oscar noms comes January. It’s timely yet historical, it’s got a big-name director, and, you know, Meryl Streep. But this film never feels like its pandering to awards voters, it feels like it’s talking to the American people, even instilling a little hope. In a year where it was easy to hate America, Spielberg has made the most American film of the year. It’s as brash as it is sentimental, two staples of this legend’s career, and proof once more why he’s a legend at all. Grade: A-

By Matt Dougherty

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