‘The Post’ fails to capture magnitude of historical turning point

Pranaya Pahwa | Staff Writer

The individual talents behind “The Post” lift a dead script from its grave. Unfortunately, no one remembers to revive it.

“The Post” details the Washington Post’s acquisition and decision to publish the Pentagon Papers, classified government documents detailing the history of the United States’ involvement in Vietnam. In doing so, the film explores the importance of the Fourth Estate and the bravery of those willing to speak truth to power.

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From the start, “The Post” has a lot going its way. The cast is ridiculously strong. The film has bona fide acting legends (Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks), 2017 all-stars (Michael Stuhlberg and Tracy Letts), current television giants (Sarah Paulson, Allison Brie, Bob Odenkirk, Matthew Rhys and Bradley Whitford) and television standouts (Carrie Coon, Zachary Woods, David Cross and Jesse Plemons). The crew behind the camera is also phenomenal: Steven Spielberg directs, John Williams composes and Janusz Kaminski manages cinematography.

The sheer talent behind the film ensures that “The Post,” at times, is genuinely thrilling, dramatic and funny. The kinetic camera work and editing excite, the score thrills and the acting is superb. More often than not however, “The Post” disappoints. The film tries and fails to evoke responses it has not earned.

Shots are held a few seconds too long, attracting attention to themselves, and therefore losing their impact. Character arcs are sudden and unnatural. Tom Hanks gets a hero-shot for recognizing that women in the workplace face institutional barriers. The movie seems to think it is essential because it discusses important issues. However, “The Post” is not essential. It adds nothing to the national discussion, and its self-congratulatory attitude derails its own thematic aspirations. While watching the film, I groaned out loud twice.

Look, I like the individuals behind “The Post.” Though I support the film’s message, that does not make it good art. There must be a distinction between good stories and good storytelling. I would go even further and say that good and bad stories don’t exist. There is only good and bad storytelling with good and bad messages.

Every story must convey something—a message, a feeling, anything. It cannot convey that without a necessarily effective storytelling technique. “The Post’s” premise is strong, but its execution is weak.

Almost every storytelling decision results in maximum cliche and yawn factor. It is the sort of film which has an unnecessary Vietnam sequence with a rock and roll musical accompaniment, a man reading damning lines from documents out loud to himself and that classic movie moment where a guy is stealing something and acts suspicious in front of a kind, but clueless, security guard. That’s just the first five minutes.

Spielberg premiered his film in theaters just nine months after he read the script. He explained his hurried pace simply: “This couldn’t wait.” The film certainly resonates in the current political climate. Regrettably, however, the film reflects the haste with which it was made. “The Post” just isn’t good. The film’s success and critical acclaim demonstrates a timely infatuation with its ideas and not a genuine appreciation of its craft.

“The Post” covers a crucial event in American history with a rather hackneyed approach. The topic is important but the film is not—no matter how many times it tells you it is.