It was a surprise when The Post went empty-handed during awards season this year—before it even opened, numerous jokes had circulated along the lines of “let’s give them the Oscar already.” And in fact it’s a film that historically would have swept the Oscars, but the changing demographics of the Academy members and the fact they got the best film right for once blocked it. There is also the fact that, as good as the film is, it is didn’t “deserve” the awards.
Spielberg made The Post in haste, trying to get it done in time for that December deadline for Oscars consideration, much like the journalists in the film worked around the clock to publish The Pentagon Papers. He also made it right after shooting the crowd-pleasing blockbuster Ready Player One, so quickly that The Post actually came out before its predecessor. It’s not uncommon for Spielberg to do a “serious film” and back to back with a popcorn movie, he has done it throughout his career: for example, Munich and War of the Worlds, or Schindler’s List and Jurassic Park.
The film itself is exactly what you would expect from Spielberg handling this type of material. It’s incredibly well made, with strong performances throughout. However, despite the star talent of Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep as The Washington Post‘s Ben Bradlee and Katharine Graham, the real interest in the film centres on Bob Odenkirk as Ben Bagdikian and Matthew Rhys as Daniel Ellsberg. They were the real heroes behind the publication of the papers, and the people who are the most interesting and engaging, Probably due to his time spent as a comedian, Odenkirk perfectly captures the bag of nerves that Bagdikian must have been while handling government secrets.
Given who stars in the two management roles, the film puts a bit too much emphasis on the higher-ups of The Post than on the journalists who were really risking everything, including their lives. Ellsberg would become one of the first people in the modern era to be charged under the Espionage Act as a whistleblower, just as Chelsea Manning has since experienced, and as would Edward Snowden if he is ever returned to the United States. The film doesn’t cover his trial because it’s not that story, but interested viewers can learn more via the 2003 TV movie The Pentagon Papers with James Spader as Ellsberg.
All good films about journalism should make you feel like you’re smelling the machine presses as the headlines roll off, and Spielberg has numerous scenes that are pornography for anybody who loves old-school newspapers and how they were made. It really is one of Spielberg’s best films in recent memory. He seems to have been reinvigorated after Lincoln, and for The Post he chose a supporting cast that makes the film, with Tracey Letts, David Cross, Michael Stuhlbarg and Bruce Greenwood. And I’m sure it was Speilberg’s intention that the film becomes what Rogue One was to A New Hope – The Post becomes the prequel to All The President’s Men, with one of the greatest set pieces of Spielberg’s career: a pan out revealing a robbery at a hotel complex known as the Watergate.
The disc includes a series of featurettes, including documentaries on the real-life figures, and then the usual making-of stuff, including casting, recreating the era and John Williams’s score.