I could be wrong, but I have the feeling that The Post is going to get an absolute…shellacking from critics, and I think I know why.
Because ultimately, ultimately this is that rarely glimpsed thing, a film that really wants to be a play.
Although they are each dramatic forms, there are fundamental differences between film, television and theatre. Television is driven by narrative – film is driven by image – and theatre is driven by IDEAS.
Which I mention because, on the most basic level, the ideas in The Post are a hell of a lot more interesting than the actual story. Part of it is that the film is bifurcated – half of it wants to be an All the President’s Men style journalism fic, and half of it wants to be a biopic of Katherine Graham (understandably, because she is a genuinely fascinating person). But the problem is, because the film splits its focus in this manner, it doesn’t really do either half justice.
And fundamentally, as much fun as it is to watch Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks square off against each other (and they have genuinely lovely chemistry), the narrative beats of both the investigation and of Graham’s ultimate triumph are…really quite pedestrian. And watching, you feel like you already know how the story MUST end, which…sucks all of the tension out of the story.
I genuinely think that The Post would have been far more interesting to watch if it had skipped the story almost entirely and just focused on the night Graham decided to go ahead and publish the Pentagon Papers. Really dig into all the factors that made it a difficult decision, let the actors have conversations that actually explore the complexities at stake – the kind of discussion that is usually filmic death, but forms the life-blood of great theatre. (Note, if the Post had found a filmic way to convey ANY of its backstory, I wouldn’t be so emphatic about this – but it didn’t).
As is, the way the film strains to tie itself into All the President’s Men as it winds up just feels like it’s taunting you by bringing to mind a much, much better film.
(On a side note – poor Bradley Whitford. When and why did he start getting typecast as the personification of patriarchal dickery? And seeing the actor who played Ed in Veep show up as a lawyer REALLY pulled me out of the film – he’s just so…modern looking. Not to mention that, with his height, he made every location he showed up in look like a set).
(I will say, that all the year’s good films always come out in January and February does lift that miserable part of the year. I’ve lived in Northern Europe my whole life, and the long winters do not get any easier. Not that it’s cold, but…I’m already sick of it being so damn DARK all the time, and there’s another two months to go).