Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson
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Imagine The West Wing minus all the wit …
The titular post here is The Washington Post, one of America’s better newspapers. The main setting is of course Washington D.C., and the time is 1971. Following in the very fresh footsteps of the beleaguered New York Times, the Post’s editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and publisher Katharine Grahame (Meryl Streep) are thinking of risking imprisonment by publishing extracts from the so-called Pentagon Papers. And that, essentially, is all this movie is about. The revelatory documents themselves show a pattern of lying by the government, particularly on the part of presidents and Secretaries of Defence and about the Vietnam War, which stretches back for decades. That level of mendacity is a big topic, but how people sought to reveal it is an appreciably smaller one, and the level of tedium is magnified by Steven Spielberg’s use of every cliche in the “publish and be damned” storybook.
The performances are OK here, and Meryl Streep is very good, but fine acting doesn’t take us very far when it’s in the service of a lamentably feeble script.
The Post is excruciatingly banal, trite, pompous and dull. Its dialogue is wooden and its style sentimental. Given that the (true) story is rather slight and its ending is – to anyone who knows their American history – predictable, it’s also too long. Imagine The West Wing minus all the wit and you’ve got something of the tone. Perhaps the whole thing is intended as a nostalgic sop to progressive and liberal-minded audiences in a time when, to use a line from Leonard Cohen, “Everybody knows that the good guys lost”. But judged solely as a film it’s abysmal.