review by Rebecca Wynne-Walsh
Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. Three of the most talented, well-liked and well-respected individuals in Hollywood have come together as a show stopping team of living legends doing what they do best in this year’s most obvious Oscar-bait, The Post. Streep and Hanks play the publisher and the editor respectively of the 1971 Washington Post newspaper, against the backdrop of the publication of leaked Pentagon Papers detailing the government cover-up of the impending failure of the Vietnam War. It is a film that feels like a combination of All the President’s Men and Spotlight. It succeeds in that in it is well-executed and acted superbly but, it also lets itself down in failing to reinvent such a securely established formula.
Spielberg has not lost his eye for beauty, his shots are impeccable, even painterly in their composition and subtle use of colour. He knows Streep and Hanks are quite literally the stars of this show and so frames them adoringly. That said, I would argue that Spielberg’s love of his actors does not translate into a love of the characters they are playing, who at times fall victim to clunky exposition. There are moments of delicacy, even moments of brilliance, to be found in the small interactions, the humanising asides that ensure widespread nominations for Streep and Hanks. These star performances would perhaps even have benefitted from having one film each instead of struggling to do each character and each performer justice with an uneasily split screen time.
Each member of the supporting cast also offers a marvellous turn. This cast includes Bob Odenkirk, Sarah Paulson, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Jesse Plemons and Jessie Mueller. This is not even the full list of the superb ensemble but these actors are noteworthy in their representation of the style of performer Spielberg has selected. While all popular working actors, this are indeed actors, rather than stars. Their dedication to crafting fully-rounded characters adds a level of integrity to this film that must not be overshadowed in the presence of its massive leads. Streep and Hanks’ generosity as actors is evident and appreciated. They steal the show by natural virtue of their superstar status but aside from that they manage to work as a team within the ensemble, refusing to abuse the spotlight that inclines towards them in favour of building their characters slowly but surely.
The phrase slowly but surely suits this film well. While there is an element of resting on its laurels, Spielberg never over indulges his audience. He instead favours the slow burning tactic, generating tension in subdued conversations, whispered phone-calls and expository asides. It would have been too easy to screen a feature length two-hander between legends like Streep and Hanks, Spielberg masterfully chooses to respect them as stars but to treat them as actors. This introduces a seamless element to the film which moves between multiple strands of narrative as each journalist contributes to the story.
It is always a joy to see the likes of Streep, Hanks and Spielberg doing what they do best. In this case I only wish they had taken more of a risk, pushed the boundaries a little bit more instead of than offering something that is so classical in style it veers into the realm of the old-fashioned. This is by no means a bad film, it is in fact a rather good film, it would be impossible for it to be anything less given the creative talent involved. But, given the creative talent involved I had expected something truly spectacular and so, found myself underwhelmed when presented with something that was simply above average in its aims for excellence.