The Post-mortem

Steven Spiel­berg’s drama about the pub­li­ca­tion of the Pen­tagon Pa­pers is a cliché-filled slog

NOW Magazine - - MOVIES - By SU­SAN G. COLE

the Post (Steven Spiel­berg). 116 min­utes. Opens Fri­day (Jan­uary 5). See list­ing, this page. Rat­ing: NN

A key scene in The Post goes into the bow­els of the Wash­ing­ton Post’s head­quar­ters to the print­ing press, where type is be­ing set to prep the next morn­ing’s pub­li­ca­tion of the his­toric Pen­tagon Pa­pers. The plates are lov­ingly shot and prac­ti­cally ca­ressed by work­ers putting them into place. And the news­pa­pers cas­cad­ing from the press cre­ate a gor­geous, swirling de­sign.

Those scenes, in­tended to make us ache for the pre-dig­i­tal days when print ruled, are the best thing about the movie. That’s not say­ing much about a film by Steven Spiel­berg, star­ring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. But The Post is ac­tu­ally a dreary slog, laden with clichés.

It has two main nar­ra­tive arcs. It’s 1971, when Richard Nixon reigned supreme in the White House. The ed­i­to­rial team, led by Ben Bradlee (Hanks) has to de­cide whether to pub­lish Daniel Ells­berg’s il­le­gally se­cured gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments show­ing that ev­ery ad­min­is­tra­tion since the 50s has lied about what’s go­ing on in Viet­nam.

But the buck stops at pub­lisher Katharine Gra­ham (Streep), who gained own­er­ship of the pa­per when her hus­band Phil died. She’s wholly un­pre­pared for the job, never hav­ing worked a day in her en­ti­tled life, and has to make the busi­ness de­ci­sion of a life­time, which

could threaten the IPO she’s just

launched raft of pub­li­ca­tion em­ploy­ees on the stock could to jail. ex­change. send her and Cru­cially, a

Even though we know how it ends, this story could be fas­ci­nat­ing. But the film just plods along. Hanks is turn­ing into a walk­ing cliché as the per­sis­tent guy stay­ing true to his prin­ci­ples – in this case, the value of free­dom of the press. Streep shows dis­ci­pline by ton­ing it down as the dither­ing pub­lisher. But who wants a muted per­for­mance from Streep? And the con­flicts, be­tween fret­ful lawyers and Bradlee, for ex­am­ple, feel stagey.

Even the ex­cit­ing as­pect of the story, the search for Ells­berg (played by Matthew Rhys) and the cloak-and-dag­ger trans­porta­tion of the doc­u­ments to the Post build­ing, is sub­verted when Ells­berg sud­denly ap­pears on TV af­ter a cru­cial Supreme Court rul­ing is de­liv­ered. Huh? How did that hap­pen? Last time we saw him, he was hid­ing and deeply fear­ful.

Most of the fault lies with writ­ers Liz Han­nah and Josh Singer, nei­ther of whom have ma­jor cred­its on their re­sumé. But it doesn’t help that Spiel­berg is a true be­liever in Amer­ica and ev­ery­thing he thinks it stands for. It’s what al­most fully sab­o­taged Sav­ing Pri­vate Ryan. Here, when a news re­porter reads the court’s de­ci­sion de­fend­ing a free press, Spiel­berg makes sure the mu­sic swells enough to make your eyes roll.

He might as well have used Amer­ica The Beau­ti­ful on the sound­track.

Meryl Streep is toned down in The Post. But who wants that?

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