Steven Spielberg’s The Post

On Film / The Daily — Dec 6, 2017


“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.”

Update, 12/12: David Ehrlich’s question for the latest IndieWire Critics Survey is, quite simply, “what is Steven Spielberg’s best film?”

Updates, 12/14: “In many ways it was a golden age, but the real heroes were the whistleblowers and reporters, and that’s no slight to the real risks editors and publishers like Bradlee and Graham took,” writes Christian Lorentzen for the New Republic. “The film is animated by a sense of yearning for a time when America could count on its patrician class to act in the country’s interest in the name of the Constitution. The family model of media ownership is still with us, even if the Xerox machine and the printing press seem to be on the way out, though now the families are named Murdoch and Koch, not to mention Bezos.”

“When Graham is agonizing over whether or not to publish the Papers, Janusz Kaminski’s camera cranes up, isolating her in her study as if she were the tormented heroine of an Ophuls or Minnelli melodrama,” notes Keith Uhlich. “Sam Fuller, who once gruffly graced Spielberg's frame as a military man in 1941, informs the newsroom scenes (a porkpie-hatted copy editor and a clickety-clacking Linotype machine are treated with a reverence that recalls Park Row), while the opening Vietnam battle section that introduces military analyst-turned-whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) has a bit of The Steel Helmet about it, though with the emphasis placed on the tools of journalism as opposed to war (e.g., the whoosh of helicopter blades seamlessly segue into Ellsberg tapping away on his typewriter). ‘He's observing,’ says one of the soldiers about this intruding ‘long-hair,’ and that’s the position we as viewers are typically in—at a remove that I’m tempted to describe as dispassionate, even though Spielberg tries, time and again, as is his wont, to do some emotional goosing.”

“For all that it gets right, All the President’s Men steps flagrantly wrong in its treatment—and, frankly, its erasure—of Katharine Graham,” writes Jason Bailey for Slate. “What The Post ultimately dramatizes, and ATPM skips, was the public validation of the paper’s key figure. After the Watergate dam broke, Bradlee writes, ‘Katharine Graham, God bless her ballsy soul, was going to have the last laugh on all those establishment publishers and owners who had been so condescending to her, and all those Wall Street types turned statesmen who warned her every day that we were going too far.’ That conflict gives The Post much of its soul and its substance.”

Update, 12/18: “[T]ackling contemporary crises via historical docudrama is starting to feel a tad cowardly to me,” writes Mike D’Angelo. “Invent a present-day hypothetical, perhaps inspired by past events. Make us uncomfortable.”

Updates, 12/24: “The pleasure of The Post is how it sweeps you up in how it all went down,” writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. “Mostly, it went down fast, a pace that Mr. Spielberg conveys with accelerated rhythms, flying feet, racing cameras and an enjoyably loose approach to the material. With his virtuosic, veteran crew, Mr. Spielberg paints the scene vividly and with daubs of beauty; most notably, he creates distinct visual realms for the story’s two main overlapping, at times colliding worlds. Katharine reigns over one; at first she’s all but entombed in her darkly lighted, wood-paneled empire. Ben rules the other, overseeing the talking and typing warriors of the glaring, noisily freewheeling newsroom. . . . There’s more than a little corn and wishful thinking in the high-minded moments in The Post; movies like either to glorify or demonize journalists, relying on heroes and villains. Yet given the recent assaults on journalism and the truth, this heroizing is also irresistible.”

“This is a superhero movie for real grownups,” writes Time’s Stephanie Zacharek. “Streep is revered for her great-lady acting, but she’s always freshest, and most alive, in comedy. Her performance here is terrific because it’s a whirlwind eddy of both.”

“It's a film that often calls attention to its own self-importance and falters when compared to Spielberg’s best historical dramas like Munich and Lincoln, movies that earn their messages instead of just stating them,” writes Brian Tallerico at RogerEbert.com. “One can almost see the weight on its shoulders to ‘say something important,’ and it sometimes drags down the entire venture. However, there’s more than enough to like here, including a great ensemble, the best performance from a living legend in years, and, again, a message that feels depressingly timely.”

Linda Holmes, Stephen Thompson, Glen Weldon, and Bob Mondello discuss The Post on NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour (26’33”).

Updates, 12/25: “Spielberg homes in on the sense of paranoia in some moments; in others, he leans into the constant exchanges of power.” K. Austin Collins at the Ringer: “He’s reliably good at staging every argument, every moment of heavy decision-making, as a neat manifestation of how the characters feel, tilting the camera this way or that, or winding it in circles over Kay’s head, as each argument reaches a crisis point. It’s your basic Spielberg master class, essentially, which is good enough reason to adore it, even despite the obvious corniness of its most democratically idealistic points.”

“It is an unfortunate irony that the makers of a film dedicated to the pursuit of truth took dramatic license with [New York Times publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger], who died in 2012, in their worthy elevation of Ms. Graham, who died in 2001,” writes Jim Rutenberg in the NYT. “The more important lesson is that, in both cases, family-led newspapers placed their journalistic missions ahead of business imperatives. And they did so under intense governmental pressure, a reminder of the important role that principled family leadership plays in the news business. That has particular resonance in The New York Times Building as Arthur Gregg Sulzberger prepares to take the publisher’s reins from his father, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., on New Year’s Day, extending the Ochs-Sulzberger family’s stewardship of the paper to a fifth generation.”

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Update, 12/26: “Just how accurate is this All the President’s Men prequel?” asks Sam Roberts in the New York Times, presenting “a primer separating fact and fiction.”

Updates, 12/27: “If it’s true that Spielberg’s endings are more complicated than they seem, then there may be some way of reading The Post’s final moments that will redeem them,” writes Adam Nayman at the Ringer, “but for now, the fact that a movie allegorizing the battle between journalism and governmental censorship strives to make us feel good strikes me as fake news.”

For the Village Voice, April Wolfe talks with co-writer Liz Hannah, who looks back to the night that producer Amy Pascal picked up the screenplay a week before the 2016 election. “They were elated at the idea of telling a story that they felt paralleled Clinton’s, a story about an older woman seizing her power—and growing more and more feminist through her relationships with young women. . . . But then the election happened. ‘I think there was a half a second where we were like, “Does anybody still want to see this movie? Is it just us?”’ Hannah says. ‘And then we were like, “We have to make this now. We have to tell the story of a woman who gets to talk and gets to have the last word.”’”

Update, 12/28: Nathaniel Rogers finds that The Post “doesn’t really start crackling until its last act when the arcs of both characters dovetail as they wake up to the ways they’ve been compromised and make their final decisions about what goes to print and when. The Post might not be one of Streep’s greatest performances but her close-up on the telephone at the film’s climax, a moment which could cost Graham her entire livelihood and her family tradition, is one of the most electric single scenes of her lauded career.”

Updates, 1/2: On an episode of the Director’s Cut (33’06”), Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman) talks with Spielberg about The Post.

And the Ringer’s Sean Fennessey interviews screenwriters Hannah and Singer (31’40”).

Updates, 1/3: For Variety’s Owen Gleiberman, “the reason The Post is such a dynamic and engaging movie is that it nails the flavor of newspaper journalism in 1971: no, not the fact that it was so activist and bankrolled, but the way that it was discovering, at that very moment, what it meant to take a more active role in deciding what the news was. . . . In doing so, they redefined the relationship of the press to the American people. And that, of course, is what America always does: It reinvents itself for new times, new circumstances, new technologies, new corruptions. It remains free by redefining what freedom—and freedom of the press—is.”

“Spielberg’s direction is low-key but urgent, with many strands of visual patterning, including the echo of the geometry of a Vietnam firefight in the opening scene in eccentric camera positions for a moral showdown” between Graham and Bradlee, writes Ray Pride in Newcity.The Post is not Citizen Kane, nor is it All the President’s Men, but its story of the rivalry between papers . . . is terrific, as is Graham’s discovery of what fun it is to run a newspaper.”

For the New York Times, Cara Buckley talks with Streep and Hanks “about the film’s uncanny parallels with today, their thoughts on the Weinstein moment, and what it’s like following in the footsteps of what is arguably the best newspaper movie ever, All the President’s Men, starring Jason Robards as Bradlee.”

“Filming began on May 30; the final sound mix took place on Nov. 13.” Variety’s Tim Gray gets Spielberg talking “about how many of his longtime collaborators made that happen.”

Update, 1/4: “Spielberg’s visual acuity and sensitivity to space and light remain leaps and bounds beyond the ken of most directors, and his impulse to put on a show and his ability to give an audience more than they ever knew they wanted are intact decades into his career,” writes Jeff Reichert at Reverse Shot. “Spielberg, historical entertainer, is both at his best and most dubious in The Post. At this point in his career, he cannot be anyone but himself.”

“Possibly due to the hectic shooting schedule, there’s a headlong, screwball energy to the picture that’s intoxicating,” writes Sean Burns for WBUR. “The spirit is always buoyant and joyful, even when we’re being lectured.”

In the Pacific Sun, Richard Von Busack notes that the “invaluable information in the film is covered in more depth in Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith’s 2010 documentary, titled in honor of Henry Kissinger’s description of Ellsberg: The Most Dangerous Man in America. It tells of Ellsberg’s decision to leak the documents and how this leak begat Nixon’s counter-intelligence team, who inaugurated the Watergate affair. In 2010, I wrote, ‘A feature film would have handled this ending on a note of triumph: The full story is sadder.’ Informed that the war had been conducted under false pretenses, the public didn’t care. They returned Nixon to office in a landslide. Exult at the end of The Post at the press’s triumph over the sinister Nixon.”

Updates, 1/5: “President Donald Trump's team has requested, and been granted, access to the 20th Century Fox political drama for both 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. and Camp David, where the president is scheduled to host a summit on Saturday and Sunday with top GOP lawmakers.” Pamela McClintock has more in the Hollywood Reporter.

The Post is a rousing movie, but there’s a creepy silence once the machines stop clattering and the credits roll,” writes Time’s Daniel D’Addario. “The movie is intended as a rallying cry for the power of truth to effect change, but in a post-truth moment, it reads like a love letter to something lost. It’s a document of our unreachable shared history, not our fractured present.”

Update, 1/9: “Notwithstanding its political partisanship and rousing feminist message, The Post is not an especially risky or subversive film,” writes Guy Lodge in the Guardian. “Streep traditionally gravitates less toward iconoclastic auteur statements than comfortable, actor-oriented grownup entertainments, and in her first ever collaboration with Spielberg, the actor and director reflect each other’s tasteful, old-school moderation to warming, rewarding effect.”

Update, 1/10: Writing for the Blog of the Los Angeles Review of Books, Kristin Marguerite Doidge argues that The Post is “one of the most personal films the legendary filmmaker has ever made.” What’s more: “Along with Wonder Woman and Lady Bird, it’s possibly one of the most important feminist films of 2017.”

Update, 1/11: “The only Spielberg film of the last ten years worthy of the director’s stature is Lincoln (2012), whose mixture of lofty American ideals and messy political pragmatism is perhaps the most morally complicated statement Spielberg has ever signed,” writes Duncan Gray in the Notebook. “That is, inspirational speeches may make the music swell, but only devil's choices and moral compromises can carry those values from theory to practice. The Post is a hard turn back towards simplicity, as if to say that simplicity is what the moment calls for.”

Updates, 1/13: “Given all it has going for it, The Post should rank alongside Duel, Jaws, and A.I. as one of Spielberg’s best films,” writes Steve Erickson in the Nashville Scene. “But it falls short of its potential. Elements of the film lack decisiveness—Spielberg devotes more time to the crises of the newspaper’s top brass than to its reporters, with laudable points being made in rather blunt and obvious ways.”

“The Post is undeniably an important movie for our times, a product shaped by the present and past, and speaking compellingly to this singular moment in our American history,” writes Marjorie Baumgarten in the Austin Chronicle.

“In a lot of ways, The Post is the movie Oliver Stone wanted Snowden to be,” suggests Vince Mancini in the Stranger.

“For all Spielberg’s devotion to accurate details, the art direction of The Times sequences was entirely wrong,” argues Steven Heller in the Design Observer. “I admit that for the average filmgoer this may be minor, if nonexistent, but for me, a former Times veteran it was disappointing. The problem starts with the entirely fake entrance to the old Times building at 229 West 43rd Street, continues with incidental shots of the non-existent buildings across the street, inaccurate interior stair- and hallways, and the false newsroom layout with a nonexistent balcony: it was like seeing one of those films set in New York that was really shot in Toronto (the street signs are always wrong). The illusion was shot to bits.”

“Spielberg is a superb craftsman, and he expertly builds suspense from reporters furiously typing, even earning most of the movie’s cheesy moments of triumph,” writes Josh Bell in the Las Vegas Weekly. “Like Bridge of Spies, another fact-based Spielberg film about good people doing the right thing, The Post molds real life into a crowd-pleasing story without sacrificing the underlying honesty.”

Update, 1/16: “By the way, have you seen The Post?” Paul Thomas Anderson asks Michael Phillips during the course of an interview for the Chicago Tribune. “I’d say Steven Spielberg is as good with the camera as anybody in film history. I saw it the other day, and I couldn’t believe how good he is at dealing with a lot of people in that small a space. He’s got ten people in a living room, and everybody’s moving around, and everything seems natural, and the camera’s dancing around them, and that thing is a miracle of staging and camerawork. I can’t wait to see it again, to really look under the hood and watch how he did it.”

Updates, 1/19: At Little White Lies, Charles Bramesco suggests that “in his hurry to make a relevant movie, Spielberg may have forgotten to make an honest one, or even a good one. Here, the proud patriotic spirit that seemed a little cornball when Bridge of Spies got Tom Hanks monologuing about ‘the rules’ fully overreaches into irresponsible sentimentality.”

“Even having looked at that documentary about myself”—Susan Daly’s Spielberg—“I still cannot honestly tell you what attracts me to a project and what presses my buttons and what gets me to say yes,” Spielberg tells Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian. “I can’t tell you.”

Update, 1/21: “The filmmaking may hardly be groundbreaking, but this story is more relevant than ever, and it is told with wit, precision and understated passion,” writes Mark Kermode in the Observer.

Update, 1/22: “When it comes to presenting us with the extraordinary, historical or otherwise, Spielberg likes his paperwork,” notes Tom Shone. “It brings out the Rockwell in him. Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. both took their names from snippets of officialese. Schindler’s List took its theme not from the the horrors of the Holocaust but its bureaucracy. Private Ryan is plucked from the battlefield by a bit of sharp-eyed admin. Liz Hannah’s script has it’s share of bromides defending truth, justice and the American way, but by framing the story as a business story, Spielberg keeps any high-mindedness at heel.”

Update, 1/30: “Tom has said, and I agree,” Streep tells Tribeca’s Matthew Eng, “that this group of actors is the sharpest and most formidable ensemble [with whom] we have ever had the pleasure to work. The number of award-winning actors who took the smallest roles just to be able to have a part in telling this story, the truth of which is so pungently applicable today, was so heartening and generous.”

Updates, 3/2: “The real story in this movie is how Daniel Ellsberg got the Pentagon Papers to Washington Post reporter Ben Bagdikian,” writes A. S. Hamrah for n+1.The Post concentrates instead on bosses.”

“As Meryl Streep delivers her first lines,” writes Karen Chernick at Hyperallergic, “the camera pans over a distinctive Cubist still life, in which fragmented planes of purple and yellow serve as a backdrop for a clay pot with a teal shadow. It hangs on a set inspired by the Georgetown home of Katharine Graham, former publisher of the Washington Post. The painting is No. 9, Nature Morte Espagnole (1915) by Diego Rivera.” And it “turns out to be a surprisingly good fit for the movie and its themes.”

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