Hot Take: Oscarbait account of The Pentagon Papers. Highly competent newspaper tale along the lines of Spotlight without the emotional weight.
Take a true story. Add Steven Spielberg as director. Add Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks as the stars. Add a number of competent supporting cast members including Bob Odenkirk, Bradley Whitford, Tracy Letts and others. Throw in a score from John Williams. Tie it to the current political climate and some similarities to the past and you have a film capable of scoring an Oscar nomination or two. The Post, a historically accurate account of the publishing of The Pentagon Papers from the point of view of The Washington Post and a subplot of Kay Graham (Streep) as the first female president and publisher of an American newspaper, is high octane Oscarbait and received 6 Golden Globe nominations which could be a sign of things to come for The Post come the announcement of Academy Award nominations next week.
What more could you expect with such a partnership of talent and tale? The Post acts as a de facto prequel to 1977’s All the President’s Men which nabbed 8 Oscar nominations. The end of The Post even links the two films with basically the exact opening scene from the 1977 Oscar nominee for Best Picture. It’s as if this film does everything it can to score Oscar nominations. Pulling out all the stops, it’s heavy handed take overemphasizes the role The Washington Post played in the publishing of The Pentagon Papers but nails the contentious relationship between the free press and the White House which feels eerily similar to our current political state. Streep and Hanks are as good as you’d expect in the main roles. Spielberg’s latest historical account is not as good as 2012’s Lincoln (which scored 12 Oscar nominations) or 2015’s Bridge of Spies (which collected 6 Oscar noms) but it has the star power and is topical enough to make some Oscar noise.
The “X” factor here is its linkage to current events from the current President’s disdain for the news media to women being more assertive and taking a stand. The only challenge is the film might be too “by the numbers” to make as big of a splash as either of Spielberg’s recent historical films. It might be more aligned with 2005’s Munich which scored 5 Oscar nominations including a Best Director nom for Spielberg and Best Original Score nom for Williams. Sound familiar?
It’s hard to knock The Post. It has some similarities to 2016’s Best Picture winner Spotlight but lacks the emotional impact of the historical account of The Boston Globe’s investigative report on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. But that shouldn’t be too surprising considering the comparison of the two topics even with their similarities. The Post moves quickly and keeps it interesting enough with impeccable timing. Spielberg, Streep and Hanks are supremely capable and the film is almost too perfect. Sometimes a flawless effort can look too easy and maybe The Post even plays it too safe. The suspense feels a bit manufactured and the end result being in jeopardy never really works as it feels more eventual. Maybe at the time people thought the government could continue to sweep this under the rug but it’s hard to imagine in the age of the Internet. That’s the biggest criticism I can find, though. It feels nitpicky, doesn’t it?
You’re a sucker for flawless Oscarbait.
It’s not even the 3rd best historical film from Spielberg since 2000.