By far the strongest aspect of The Post is its interest in what this viewer would have called the most dangerous problem in government until a certain someone made an ominous descent down an escalator. Subtle acts of corruption have made it easy for powerful people to get their preferred narrative into the world. By spending time together, people like Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) have convinced journalists like Graham that they are good people who couldn’t possibly be duplicitous, and therefore go unchallenged. The script by Singer and Liz Hannah implicitly understands that Graham’s dinner parties have made it difficult for her to do her job well, that her treasured position of hostess has crippled her critical thinking. By casting aside her friendship with McNamara, and Bradlee reconsidering his own with the equally-complicit Kennedys, the Post is able to do groundbreaking work on the Pentagon Papers, and prime the pump for their looming masterpieces during Watergate.
The Post has more than the untenable social relationship between the press and the powerful on its mind. Graham repeatedly finds herself as the only woman in rooms where decisions are being made by men that are brasher and bolder than she. Streep does unsurprisingly nuanced work in showing the internal rise and fall of confidence and reticence, with the latter reigning as the film starts and the former taking control as the film continues, albeit somewhat suddenly. She and Spielberg do empathetic work in evoking the ease of staying quiet and the courage of speaking up, though the film trips on itself by not having faith in the power of these scenes. What was clear thanks to Streep’s performance needs to be said out loud with the requisite John Williams score behind it.
The film’s tentative relationship to gender equity only extends as far as Streep. It treats two superb actors badly, saddling them with support roles and the film’s worst lines. Carrie Coon plays a dogged reporter who doesn’t differentiate herself and is then given the impossible task of having to make a Supreme Court verdict emotional and compelling. Like Amy Ryan in Bridge of Spies, Sarah Paulson is wasted as Hanks’ wife. The Post’s effective B-plot of Graham stepping fully into a leadership role brings attention to the insufficiency of the rest of the film around it.
The Post’s large gaps, including some unfortunate Nixon interludes that fail to meld his White House recordings with the device Spielberg uses to illustrate them, don’t mask what is otherwise a propulsive and entertaining work. Excepting the abysmal Ready Player One, the venerable director is moving into a competency and decency porn phase of his long career, one where people who know what they’re doing are allowed to do it. I have no idea how an industrial press works, but Spielberg makes it fun to look at. If this phase continues, he will hopefully pick up the added trick of letting his work speak for itself. C+