• [The Daily] Steven Spielberg’s The Post

    By David Hudson

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    “There’s topical, there’s timely, and then there’s The Post, which feels less like a historical thriller set in 1971 than it does an exhilarating caricature of the year 2017,” begins David Ehrlich at IndieWire. “While Steven Spielberg’s latest film rivetingly dramatizes the publication of the Pentagon Papers (and eloquently unpacks the consequences of their dissemination), The Post wears the Nixon era like a flimsy disguise that it wants you to see right through.” And it “feels like the work of someone wracked by a personal responsibility to confront this demented moment in time, someone who knew that future generations would judge him for not transforming his enormous platform into something of a pulpit.”

    For Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at the A.V. Club, “The Post lacks the exact thing it glorifies: a reporter’s instinct for story. . . . It’s another of Spielberg’s sincere (but in many cases critical) examinations of tested American values (Bridge of Spies, Lincoln, Amistad, etc.), intriguingly preoccupied with the behind-the-headlines drudgery of running a paper: copy editors, board meetings, legalese, linotype. The subject matter might be timely (never mind the irony of calling a paean to print journalism The Post), but the film keeps losing the plot.”

    “Shot and edited by Spielberg and his team in less than six months, The Post is very evidently a strike-while-the-story’s-hot kind of project,” writes the Telegraph’s Robbie Collin, “and it finds the master filmmaker at his most thrillingly supple and intuitive. Yet the two outstanding performances at its core feel like they could have been years in the honing, even though both roles were only cast in March. Tom Hanks plays Ben Bradlee, the editor of the Washington Post, and Meryl Streep is Katharine Graham, the paper’s publisher, whose life on the genteel D.C. social circuit is worlds away from the newsroom’s clatter and bark.”

    “Josh Singer and Elizabeth Hannah's screenplay goes deep into the weeds not only of the paper’s IPO but both Graham and Bradlee’s chummy relationships with the major power players of mid-century America and the Vietnam War itself,” writes Christopher Gray at Slant. “Former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) pops up at Graham’s frequent dinner parties, and Bradlee’s history with John F. Kennedy is indistinguishable from a friendship. . . . All of this context is valuable, particularly as it establishes Graham’s moral dilemma about whether to move ahead with printing reports of [Daniel] Ellsberg’s [Matthew Rhys] leaks: Not only must she imperil her paper's financial health and draw the ire of a vindictive president, but she must also assent to damning, historically vital critique of her vacation partners and social relations.”

    The Post features one of Streep’s least-fussy performances,” writes Screen’s Tim Grierson. “In incremental measures, the three-time Oscar-winner charts Graham’s perilous journey from passive socialite to hard-nosed businesswoman who must square off with a patronizing all-male board.”

    “Hanks brings out his inner Jimmy Stewart,” finds the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw. “He is certainly a long way from Jason Robards’s more obstreperous, unfolksy portrayal of Bradlee in All the President’s Men, in which he famously growls that he would not reproduce Nixon’s bad language because the Post was ‘a family newspaper.’”

    “The rascally Bradlee is like the prim and proper Graham’s id,” suggests Variety’s Owen Gleiberman. “She hired him, but can’t decide whether to encourage or repress him. Their contentious camaraderie is highly entertaining, and so is the whole movie, which pulses ahead like a detective yarn for news junkies.”

    “Hanks (wonderfully irascible, and landing at least one trademark Hanks-ian laugh line) and Streep lead an incredibly deep bench of acclaimed character actors,” notes Alonso Duralde at TheWrap, “including Bob Odenkirk and David Cross (framed together at the beginning of the film—who knew Spielberg was a Mr. Show fan?), Greenwood, Tracy Letts, Michael Stuhlbarg, Carrie Coon, Sarah Paulson, Bradley Whitford, Michael Cyril Creighton, Stark Sands, Jesse Plemons and Matthew Rhys, to name but a few. The Post passes the trickiest tests of a historical drama: It makes us understand that decisions that have been validated by the lens of history were difficult ones to make in the moment.”

    “Spielberg keeps things sharp, rarely defaulting to his old-school schmaltz tendencies,” writes Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson. “It will be laughed at by some, but a fawning shot of a neatly suited Kay Graham walking down the courthouse steps while a bunch of hippie protester girls look on in hushed awe is great—at once surreal, on-the-nose, and wholly stirring. Other stuff, like Spielberg’s traditional final course of four or so endings stacked on top of one another, is less successful . . . I still bounced out of the theater feeling cheered and energized, ready to keep fighting these greedy autocrats (tweeting is fighting, right?), to subscribe to some newspapers, and to start really loving Meryl Streep again.”

    “I am not a patriot,” declares Daniel Schindel at the Film Stage, “and I find trying to wring inspiration from this part of history—to inspire hope because the government’s misdeeds were exposed, while dancing around just what those misdeeds were, to say nothing of how no one was ever really punished for them—wrongheaded at best.”

    For Keith Phipps at Uproxx, though, “it’s impossible to watch and not remember that resistance—from the press or from the people in the street—can effect change. The Post would be a great movie in any year. It’s vital, funny, moving and a stunning example of what can happen with the right combination of a skilled, intuitive director, charismatic stars, and smart storytelling.”

    “Punchy and quick-pulsed, it's a fine example of that now-rare species, the big-city newspaper melodrama,” writes the Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy, but even so: “In the unavoidable straight-up comparison with All the President's Men, the edge decidedly goes to the older film.”

    The Post will draw comparisons to Spotlight for its tale of crusading journalists rooting out systemic corruption,” predicts Matt Singer at ScreenCrush. “Spielberg’s style is much more bombastic” than Spotlight director Tom McCarthy’s, making “what could be a very static film about people talking into something fluid and thrilling.”

    For Peter Martin at ScreenAnarchy, this is “Spielberg’s best thriller since Jaws, and his most ‘of the moment’ movie ever,” so much so that “some historical parallels to modern-day events are too on the nose.”

    At the Playlist, Rodrigo Perez gives this “well-meaning, compelling” film a B.

    Updates: “I’ll admit it,” writes Bilge Ebiri in the Village Voice. “I started crying the first time I saw Tom Hanks’s Ben Bradlee walk through a bustling, thriving newsroom in The Post, and I’m pretty sure that’s what Steven Spielberg wanted. Countless films have shown crowded newsrooms in the past, but Spielberg makes sure that this one is extra busy and loud—that the clicking and clacking and shouting on the soundtrack, the reporters and editors working away or striding about, conjure not just a particular time and place, but a whole world that’s been lost. Today, a healthy newspaper office might as well be an Old West town out of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West, and the director clearly knows it.” Bottom line, this is “a supremely gripping story.”

    “Objectively speaking,” writes New York’s David Edelstein, “the events of The Post shouldn’t make for much of a nail-biter. The suspense was in Ellsberg’s agonizing decision to steal the papers and the way in which he did it, a little at a time to escape scrutiny; and it was in the Times’ brave decision to publish and the massive secrecy that surrounded the day’s front page. As someone I read on Facebook put it, telling the Pentagon Papers story from the vantage of the Washington Post is like telling the Watergate story from the vantage of the New York Times. That said, there’s enough drama here for the bystanders, too, and The Post is a good enough ‘procedural’ to keep you hooked.”

    Updates, 12/9: “Nothing is more promisingly solid, to the moviegoer, than a major Spielberg production,” writes Anthony Lane in the New Yorker. “You can foretell everything from the calibration of the craftsmanship to the heft of the cast, and The Post inarguably delivers. . . . Unlike Empire of the Sun (1987) or Catch Me If You Can (2002), which left us with a tussle of competing feelings, Spielberg’s latest work exults without a fleck of irony in its moral obligation—to lend dramatic form to the First Amendment.”

    “This movie’s belief in the power of journalism is a head rush,” writes Stephanie Zacharek as she puts The Post at the top of her list of the ten best films of 2017 for Time. “There is no more galvanizing, or more important, film this year.”

    Update, 12/11: The Hollywood Reporter’s Stephen Galloway talks with Spielberg, Streep, first-time screenwriter Liz Hannah, and producers Amy Pascal and Kristie Macosko Krieger about The Post. Pascal: “The world changes when women own things, not when they work for men.”

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