Serving the Governed, Not the Governors:
Best be warned: if you are suffering from even the mildest form of schizophrenia, then a viewing of Steven Spielberg’s The Post is very likely to trigger an attack. Because it’s two films.[Triggering: another one of those whining, nonsensical concepts for a whining, nonsensical age; and yet it seems strangely appropriate here.]
Having had a surfeit of superhero and special-effects movies of late, I heard the name of the Washington Post’s Ben Bradlee being mentioned; saw that the film inspiring the conversation was set in 1971 during the Nixon era; thought: Great. Old fashioned All the President’s Men type movie; … and felt happy out.
It should have been a straightforward, afternoon popcorn flick that threw in a little bit of education for the young ‘uns on how one after another of the political administrations lied –and lied- and lied– to the American people over a period of three decades, concerning a war that they considered unwinnable. It should have been entertainment whilst educating.
And in a way, it is. Spielberg is a consummate filmmaker, whether you like the guy or not. You don’t need me to tell you that. He’s made over thirty films in his career and there aren’t too many duds among them, if any. There were even a few pure-and-simple masterpieces like Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
At the least – at the very least – he will give you a good, solid story – and he will very rarely bore you. Well, Lincoln aside; and then he’ll make up for it by boring you into catatonia.
I should have loved The Post. On the surface it’s my kind of thing: journalists actually out there on the street, pockets stuffed with coins because *gasp* there were no mobile phones. Actually doing some print research – no internet, the horror! — and checking the source whilst ingesting good healthy lung full’s of cigarette smoke, with a room looking like an avalanche of real honest-to-God paper has inundated it.
And Spielberg, along with his screenwriters, do show this to perfection; but did we have to get a lecture along with it that takes us completely out of the story?
The Post starts off with a pointless prologue in the jungles of Vietnam before then indicating that this will be a film about those in power exercising it over those who have less; about looking after those who govern rather than the governed.
Katherine Grahame (Meryl Streep), meanwhile, has inherited control of the Washington Post. And as editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee chomps at the bit to be let loose on an exposé of the Pentagon Papers, it is down to Mrs. Graham whether or not they go to print. Nixon’s administration has already dragged the New York Times before the courts and a similar move could wipe the Post out. In addition, her social life includes many of the politicians who would be harmed by such disclosures.
Although the real-life Graham seems to have been a fascinating woman who really did shoulder her way through a male-dominated world, Streep irks in the role. Her hysterical preaching at last year’s Oscars ceremony will take a long time to forget. And, considering her supporting role in the ongoing Weinstein saga, the scene where she enters the masculine world of the Stock Exchange and ‘ordinary’ women part before her like the Red Sea is nothing short of cringe-worthy.
In fact her performance is so luvvie, mannered and annoying that it’s absolutely no surprise at all that she has been nominated for an Oscar.
On the other hand a nice touch is to have the actor Matthew Rhys playing the father-of-all whistleblowers Daniel Ellsberg. In the outstanding TV series The Americans Rhys of course is the embedded KGB spy; here he is playing a superpatriot that Nixon considered a supertraitor.
Following the Breadcrumbs…
Tom Hanks is perfect as the swaggering, self-confident, chain-smoking Bradlee. This is a through-and-through newspaperman. And although he lives by words and what they can do, there is a good moment when he is enjoying himself so much that all he can come out with is: “My God…the fun!”
Why not leave it as a film about an incredibly important period in American history? As one character daintily puts it: “Nixon just took a shit on the First Amendment.” That’s a good story. But Spielberg was so desperate to get this attack on Trump out that he left off work on his own upcoming Ready Player One and really rushed this through, starting filming in May and having it in theatres little more than a half-a-year later.
And it could have been interesting if it had been honest; it could have been about ‘following the breadcrumbs’ whilst sleeping with the enemy. Instead, despite the gushing, over-the-top accolades being bestowed on it, it comes across as something that will seem very hollow indeed in a few years’ time.
“This is a vindictive administration” says one of the press men.
Well, this is a vindictive film that actually crosses the line into propaganda territory. Watch the way that Spielberg shoots Nixon from a distance or in silhouette whilst carefully chosen extracts from his infamous tapes are designed to make us think of Trump – and not in a good way, either.
I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that these hectoring, lecturing, incestuous Hollywood types don’t hate Trump so much as they resent the fact that he stopped their beloved Hillary getting into power.
And in case he leaves anything out, Spielberg and his writers Liz Hannah and Josh Singer lay on the feminism angle with a bloody great trowel that nearly tips the film over the edge altogether. Yawn.
Trump may not be my favourite human being or even a guy I would like to have lunch with; but getting it from all angles as he does, I can see why he is so attack-defensive.
And considering that he seems to be upsetting all the right people, I’m liking the guy more every day.