“Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to “leak” into the public. Are we living in Nazi Germany” — Donald Trump, 2017
Steven Spielberg’s latest directorial drama utilises a trope that until now has been absent from his films: relevance to current affairs. In an interview with The Guardian Spielberg recognised that fact, stating ‘the urgency to make The Post was because of Trump’s administration’, and there is no difficulty in drawing parallels between the two. However, just like the crack team of reports at The Washington Post who rushed to get the story out, this film feels equally rushed.
Liz Hannah’s original script, featured on 2016’s Blacklist, was completely rewritten in two and half months by Spotlight’s Josh Singer and suffered because of it. The opening act changes dramatically with several long and ultimately meaningless expositional scenes added, including the much-loathed flashback and flash forward. Peppered throughout the film are several bizarre scenes filmed in a ‘Peeping Tom’ manner through the window of the Oval Office.
The scenes, another addition of Singer, show the back of an ever-incensed Nixon’s head with synced up audio recorded at the time with the supposed reasoning being to give additional context to the audience. Yet they also serve no narrative purpose. In fact, it feels suspiciously like these scenes were added purely to provoke comparisons to Trump, and if so it certainly worked.
The Post’s narrative surrounds the Pentagon Papers, thousands of pages of reports detailing how the United States systematically lied about Vietnam War, including crucially that they knew from the beginning that the war was never going to be won. 58 thousand United States soldiers died for a lost cause and one government employee, Daniel Ellsberg, spent months photocopying the entire thing.
He initially approaches the New York Times who publish stories about the materials provoking public outrage. Quickly though the Nixon administration gets an injunction to stem the flow of these ugly truths, in a move that sees protests in the streets. Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), the incumbent editor of The Washington Post, manages to procure the Pentagon Papers and must decide, alongside publisher Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep), whether to break the law and print more stories to defend a free press.
Meryl Streep’s performance as Graham was noticeably poor, although perhaps the breakneck speed of the filmmaking process allowed her little time to explore the nuances of who she was to become. Her character faces multiple moral dilemmas and adversity in the form of sexism from her all-male peers but Streep traverses these potentially powerful moments with a lightness of footing generally attributed to bull in a shop selling fine china. That didn’t stop the Academy from nominating her performance for an Acting Oscar for the 21st time, a feat unrivaled in the history of the awards.
In order to make The Post Spielberg left post-production of the upcoming Ready Player One, which happened previously during the production of Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List. Within eight months the script was rewritten, cast, filmed, edited and mixed. As a result, this is his weakest film since 1989’s Always. The timeless quality his films usually possess is missing here, and it is no coincidence that this corresponds to his first attempt at contemporary political commentary.