Oscar Season: The Post

With Oscar season upon us, it seemed only right that we over here at No But Listen take a look at the most Oscar-baity of Ocarbait movies: Steven Spielberg’s The Post, a journalistic period piece revolving around the decision of the Washington Post to publish the Pentagon Papers regarding US involvement in Vietnam.

I mean, just look at that last sentence. Someone for sure slapped the heel of their hand to their forehead and exclaimed “Of course!”  as soon as the thought of turning that story into a movie popped into their head – attach Spielberg as director, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks as leads, and scatter in a bunch of great bit-parts for TV character actors like Matthew Rhys, Bob Odenkirk, Jesse Plemons, Alison Brie, and Sarah Paulson, and you might as well just skip the formalities and mail the awards straight to their door. A pull quote on a poster for The Post declared it “the greatest movie ever made”. And it’s precisely for that reason that I found myself already bored by it before I’d so much as sat down in the cinema. I love prestige movies, I do, but there was something so obvious about The Post that drove me a little up the wall; when it was nominated for a stack of Oscars earlier this week, it was perhaps the least surprising movie to land that honour. Is it unfair to judge a movie negatively on the accolades it’s already received? Yeah, and patently ridiculous, too. But I know I’m not the only one who finds these by-the-numbers awardsbait flicks exhausting in theory.

But, despite my cynicism,  I have to admit that The Post is a pretty fabulous film, as these movies generally are. Spielberg is purring with confidence behind the camera, with a frame that rarely seems to settle still, giving the story this sense of endless propulsion that serves to carry it through it’s denser moments. Streep is Streep, which is to say, brilliant, but it’s Hanks who dominates in a spiky, charming performance; of the supporting cast, Odenkirk shines the brightest, but the dense cast of characters that populate the clattering newsroom we visit for these two hours are all pretty much perfect. Whenever you tell a story about a specific industry, you always run the risk of rendering it boring for people outside that industry (See also: The Fifth Estate being mostly people typing dramatically), but The Post does just enough to keep it’s head above water in that regard, finding some distinctive visuals in the old-fashioned printing of the papers. And hell, the clear political messages about freedom of the press and women in the workplace are well drawn-out and relevant, if obvious.

But this is still a Spielberg film of the 2010s, and that means it has it’s problems. It suffers from some major real-life pacing problems, as the majority of the second act revolves around lengthy discussions and debates over the consequences of publishing the papers – and then the third act comes, those consequences blasted through in all of ten minutes of a Jesse Plemons montage (Plemontage?). One of my biggest problems with Spielberg’s last major period piece, Bridge of Spies, was how keen it seemed to put a pin in things in the most obvious ways, and The Post suffers from that too, with Streep and Hanks all but announcing the themes of the movie in the final scene in a pair of speeches so impossibly unnatural that they seem beyond even their significant talent.

But yeah, despite my cynicism, I have to admit that The Post is a really solid movie; yes, it’s a film that sags a little under the weight of it’s director, it’s cast, it’s story, it’s awards-baity nature. But it’s also a confident, competent entry into Spielberg’s serious canon, and (pretty much) well-deserving of the nominations it’s recieved. And, well, Meryl Streep had to get her nomination for something, didn’t she?

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By Louise MacGregor

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