Saturday, 27 January 2018

Review: The Post

The Post
Cert: 12A / 116 mins / Dir. Steven Spielberg / Trailer

Well, we're still in January so Worthy Chin-Stroke Film Season continues with Steven Spielberg's telling of the Pentagon Papers affair of 1971, in which the US government tried to stop the press (chiefly the New York Times and titular Washington Post) from publishing documents claiming they'd lied to the public over the Vietnam War. A srs-stry requires a srs-cst of course, and Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks have been drafted in to do the heavy lifting. Cue two hours of polyester shirts*1, hand-held camerawork and actors talking over each other to give the impression of fast-paced chaos.

And it's fine.

While I appreciated the overall exposition as someone who wasn't alive at the time of the film's events, the script feels a little over-written in some places (yet wilfully obfuscating in others). And although the visuals of the movie are undeniably on-point for the 1971 setting, and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski captures the documentary-feel of the storytelling, this always felt like a modern-day facsimile of the era, rather than an immersive environment. Although I suspect Linus Sandgren's outstanding work in Battle Of The Sexes has rather spoiled it for everyone else, now (speaking of such matters, dear lord Tom Hanks does a lot of manspreading in this movie).

Another of the director's regular collaborators, John Williams brings a score which is great at the pomp and urgency of the proceedings, but occasionally becomes too sweeping and lyrical for the story it's attached to. Although the same can be said of Spielberg's direction, to be fair.

But the film tells its story with the conviction of a committed cast and crew; I can't fault it for that. There were, however, two main stumbling blocks preventing me from enjoying it more...

Firstly, I couldn't forget that I was watching Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, not newspaper proprietor Katharine Graham and editor Ben Bradlee. This is isn't necessarily a new problem of mine with Mr Hanks, but Streep usually manages to disappear into her roles, becoming the character completely. And it's not like she's has nothing to work with here, I was just always aware that I was watching an actor, acting. The problem could well be the star-wattage of the cast - Streep or Hanks on their own have more chance of blending into a scene with their supporting players, but together their light just shines more brightly than any film they're part of.

Secondly, I couldn't forget that the while the presented issues concerning press-freedom may well be very prescient in 2018, it's also a far more complex situation now. Freedom of speech is more than a right, it's a responsibility, and the needle sways both ways in 2018. Now admittedly, that's not what The Post sets out to cover, but it was in my mind throughout. And while I also don't particularly like dragging my own politics into what is supposed to be a casual movie-review blog*2, the film's stars took what can only be described The Bare Minimum Amount Of Prodding to wade into current events while promoting the film. All The Politics isn't something you can really brush aside with this movie as that's precisely what it's about.

So, all in all, The Post is basically fine. I found the story itself interesting, but got little more out of the feature than that. A well-assembled documentary would have been just as good from where I was sitting. Your mileage will vary.

Oh, and we get the fourth Insidious movie in 2.35:1 aspect-ratio, but Steven Spielberg's delivers his awards-nudger 'tv-sized' 1.85:1? Have a word, mate…

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
The Fifth Estate, Spotlight.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Well, pretty much everyone else seems to think so.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Unless your thing is historical politics or Spielberg, this is a rent/stream.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It's not.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
I wouldn't think so.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Hang on, you've put a Vietnam jungle battle-scene at the beginning of the film and there's still no Wilhelm? Insane.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: As noted, this film's got the one and only John Williams on score-duty…

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 The period-detail of sets and wardrobe is reliable enough in all the right places, although at one point Hanks' wife (played by Sarah Paulson) lifts a framed photo from the side cabinet in their lounge, showing the couple reclining on a sofa with John and Jackie Kennedy. "That picture makes me sad", she says, to which I inaudibly replied "Yeah me too, love. It looks like it was put together by the intern using MS Paint. Why can't film production companies employ dececent graphic artists to put together faked historical photos in movies? They're the one thing other than the cast that the camera always lingers on, put some bloody effort in." [ BACK ]

*2 Although y'know, as I've linked to articles at the New Statesman and the Guardian, you can probably guess which side of the fence my own deckchair is on. It's not that I'm not on the side of The Post, I absolutely am. I'm just more worried that The Post isn't always on the side of The Post, and hasn't noticed. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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