Nobody doesn’t like Tom Hanks.
An American military analyst discovers a decades-old cover-up by US presidents over the futility of the Vietnam War and takes a chance making illegal copies of military records: the Pentagon Papers. New-in-charge Washington Post owner Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) is operating in the shadow of her late husband’s business when her editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) reveals the New York Times has scooped the Post on the existence of the papers but not their full content. When an opportunity presents itself to expose everything and the implications of the papers themselves, the owner and editor must decide whether to back down and comply with a federal judge blocking the information as a state secret or show journalistic integrity by risking their careers, the newspaper, and criminal prosecution to do what they believe is right.
Unsuccessful with Lincoln, director Steven Spielberg shoots for the moon again with The Post, a semi-fictionalized account of how the Pentagon Papers were exposed. For any kids out there who don’t know about them, it was the scandal that came out before Watergate completely overshadowed it. As a dramatic recreation, can The Post capture the imagination and capitalize on the current scandals in the US, or will it be seen as too obvious for trying to be incidentally relevant?
Remember that movie Spotlight that won Best Motion Picture awards for 2015? Imagine the importance of that film cast with a who’s who of Hollywood elite while still managing to feel like paint by numbers. The Post has all the earmarks of awards-bait, but that doesn’t make it a bad movie… just not an exceptional one. With so much plot to power through, character is lost to a series of revelations in a way Spotlight managed to avoid. If you’re unfamiliar with the story of the press blowing the lid off the Vietnam War cover-up, it’s worth a watch; if you are familiar, this is the dramatized reenactment with prettier people.
With characters navigating the complications of their actions, the just-under two-hour running time feels longer than it is. It all comes down worrying about making a decision, actually making the decision, then waiting for any fallout… not a lot of surprises there (it’s history), but well-acted nonetheless. At the same time, it also feels a bit preachy, like it needs to hitch itself to the current goings-on in the world today to be relevant… perhaps a bit too much.
The Post is rated PG-13 for language, brief war violence, and Tom Hanks looking both stern and worried a lot.
Three skull recommendation out of four