“The Post”

“The Post”
Directed by Stephen Spielberg

MV5BMTg5Nzg3NjUzNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTY5NzA1NDM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_Well, you’re just not going to find a better collection of talented film folk in a movie this year. It’s starts with a brilliant script from Liz Hannah and Josh Singer (no relation). They capture the anxiety, tension and anger of the times with fewer words than most screenplays. And by using this restraint, they allow the all-star cast room to breathe – to think about, and expertly communicate, their reactions to the words, both after they hear them and before they say them. “The Post” also offers a John Williams’ score that might be his most successfully subtle. And how can a film be any more appropriate for the current world we live in than this? Not possible.

Even though the entire plot of “The Post” is well-known history at this point, I’ll refrain from giving you an outline. The discovery, the nature of newspapers back when the physical copy mattered, the ins and outs of the decision processes and declarations of those involved…BEING there in the moment is what makes it a special film…and an important one. I remember this chapter in our history (even as a lad of seven). But, being amongst the youngest audience-members at the screening I attended, the small sighs, gasps, thunderous applause, and grinding of teeth that I heard from the older attendees, proved the film’s accuracy and authenticity. This is a historical pic at its absolute best.

At this point, I’m not sure what there is to say about Meryl Streep that hasn’t already been said. We’ve come to take her ridiculously empathetic performances so very much for granted that I think we tend to overlook them. There are moments in this film that are just…I can’t effectively explain it…so I’ll just say real. When something as simple as a sigh informs so much; tells us about the situation as plot, how the weight of the situation informs emotive response, and how the situation both defines the characters’ past and present. A SIGH! Stunningly masterful. Now multiply that times two hours.

Tom Hanks can certainly hang, but he has the disadvantage of having to play Ben Bradley after Jason Robards in “All the President’s Men”. Robards had a ferociousness about him, a history. And while there are a couple hearkens back in his performance to a younger self, Hanks mostly plays plot. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still great, but it is dimmed by the blinding light of those around him. The “those” include Bob Odenkirk, Tracey Letts, Matthew Rhys, Carrie Coon, Sarah Paulson, Bruce Greenwood, David Cross, and Bradley Whitford. Odenkirk, while having definite “Saul” qualities, nonetheless, brings a world-weariness and focus to the role that makes him the films most sympathetic. Letts has, perhaps, never been better. Usually terrific in one-note characters, here he has a little more room to play, and we are the winners for it. But there is not a whiff of an insincere performance throughout.

So, now the hard part. Lucky for us, Spielberg knows how to let those around him tell a story. And, of course, he spins a really good yarn. BUT, so much of the cute staging tricks that worked in his earlier films, he’s now used in the last couple and, alas, they stick out like a sore thumb. They take away from the realism that he wants to impart. For instance, there are moments when it literally looks as if the actors are walking to marks, back and forth, for no reason at all. Other times, he’ll add scene setups that are there to evoke a laugh, but, in my mind, are so obvious, it simply ruins the fun of the discovery. And, his use of extras here just seems…cheap…not authentic – all the protest scenes are kind of absurd and seem…fake. Finally, his need to bang a message over our heads used to work great (I’m thinking of moments like the Girl in the Red Dress in “Schindler’s List”). Here (and you’ll know it when you see it) it just comes across as corny. Actually, that’s the word I would use for his direction of both this and “Bridge of Spies”. “Lincoln” and “War Horse” completely avoided these tendencies, which is what makes these distractions so noticeable here.

Regardless (with a big fat capital R), “The Post” is a fantastic film. It’s also a great flick. Other than Breitbartians, Trump-fanatics, and those who long for the days of Tricky Dick, this is a movie that will last in our film-history consciousness from some time. I don’t see any awards coming its way (even if deserved for Streep, John Williams or the writers). Doesn’t matter. As soon as it opens, go enjoy some great film-making, get angry as hell at governmental abuse of power, and then go do something about it. Believe me, by the end of the film, that’s exactly what you’ll want to do.

Written on 1/7/2018

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