Published Jan 02, 2018It's only been two years since journalism drama Spotlight won the Oscar for Best Picture, but much has changed since regarding the role of news media in American society, thanks to the election of Donald Trump and his subsequent war on "fake news," which seeks to undermine the credibility of any journalistic outlet that dares criticize him.
The Post is pretty timely, Spotlight comparisons notwithstanding. Depicting the true story of the journalists at The Washington Post and their coverage of the Pentagon Papers, which exposed coverups in the United States government's involvement in the Vietnam War, The Post explores the pushback against government interference in free speech, a topic that resonates perfectly today. With plenty of topical victories (against censorship by the government, against misogyny in the workplace) to keep Hollywood patting itself on the back for another year and strong performances by its heavyweight cast, anchored by Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, you may as well forgo the formalities and dump a bunch of awards on the cast and crew right now.
But in an age where the mainstream film industry is finally embracing more diverse stories on-screen, The Post feels largely safe and superfluous. It's Oscar-bait, and transparently so, lacking the vitality and freshness of so many of the year's best films. With Hollywood on the precipice of moving past so many of the toxic behaviours that seek to further marginalize people, The Post is an empty gesture that posits some of the industry's heaviest hitters in solidarity with those on the frontlines of change without contributing anything new to the conversation.
Not to say that The Post is a bad film. It hits all the requisite marks in crafting an engaging story, and draws apt parallels between Trump's actions and those of the Nixon government without getting too heavy-handed. Streep and Hanks are predictably strong, and Bob Odenkirk makes a powerful dramatic turn as journalist Ben Bagdikian, whose tenacity drives some of the film's best moments, while director Steven Spielberg's guiding hand is as steady as ever.
But even with the all-star combination of cast, crew and context, The Post still comes up short. It has all the makings of an awards season hit, but is too calculated to reflect today's ragged, tenuous sociopolitical climate. The Post's story of scrappy underdogs who take on the government in pursuit of the truth is undermined by its A-list size, scope and sheen, which makes it difficult to buy into what it's selling.
(Twentieth Century Studios)