The Post Review
Seeing Steven Spielberg coming back to directing a Historical Drama set in the 1970s, 12 years after one of his latest masterpieces, Munich, generated enormous excitement but also a certain degree of anxiety because the film can also be considered a film-à-thèse, a genre very popular at the beginning of the 1970s, but which has not been very conclusive with Spielberg’s cinema before in Amistad. Yet The Post doesn’t disappoint and it can even be considered the director’s most refreshing film in years.
The Post is about the events that led the Washington Post to publish confidential documents in 1971, revealing the lies of the American administration as to its responsibility in the Vietnam War.
The conditions in which The Post was made are key to understanding the importance of the film for Spielberg. As with many of the director’s films, he did not just stumble across the material by chance. Spielberg made the film very quickly during the post-production of Ready Player One (basically while the work continued on the numerous visual-effects of the film, a situation familiar to him from concurrently releasing, in the early 1990s, Jurassic Park and Schindler's List). Seemingly, the current situation in US society represented perfect timing for this story, very similar to the case for Munich after the events of 9/11. By testing the notions of truth and investigation, while drawing a relentless portrait of Western patriarchate, he was able to directly address the failures of the Trump administration.
Spielberg was born in 1946 and as such he matured in an atmosphere of counterculture, and potentially learned from it the necessity of public action. It is this legacy he attempts to resurrect in the film, and he achieves it with great accuracy by managing to capture the energy and anger of a cinema where creativity and protest feed each other, but also by creating a profoundly humanist film (very much like all his previous efforts) which puts societal issues back to a human level. In this context, his characters become archetypes that an audience can project themselves onto. Basically, the solution resides in each of them; for instance the emancipation of Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) who manages to free herself from the image society had of her.
Another key element to understand The Post are the clear references to Alan J. Pakula’s All the President’s Men. However, despite these - (and the meaningful reutilisation of one particular scene) - The Post is not an ersatz of Pakula’s seminal political thriller. If it was, it would not have made such an impact at the time of its release and it would just be considered as 2017’s Spotlight (a film, funnily enough, written by the same team, Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, and in which John Slattery plays Ben Bradlee Jr., the son of Tom Hanks’ character, Ben Bradlee, in The Post), i.e. a respectable and stimulating film, but less capable of having a durable impact on its audience. The strength of Spielberg's film is precisely the director's impressive mastery. At first, the film strikes by the seeming sobriety in which its stakes, and various intrigues, are established. Then, gradually, Spielberg deploys the range of stylistic figures that he masters, until he gives his film a true epic dimension.
Throughout the film, Spielberg’s mise-en-scène remains extremely important and it makes the characters exist based on their moral stance and also their position in the frame. As such, during verbal sparring, the positioning of characters in the frame changes from the beginning to the end of the scene underlying the importance of the issues at stake. Two clear examples are the telephone conversation between Katharine Graham, Ben Bradlee and Arthur Parsons (Bradley Whitford, The West Wing) and the confrontation between Katharine Graham and Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood, Thirteen Days) which transform the mundane into suspenseful action scenes with the axis of the camera changing constantly.
The Post is also an immense pleasure because it is a film made by talented people; the technical crew is at the top of its game (the historical reconstitution is amazing) and the cast is absolutely perfect. No need to dwell on Hanks’ performance (flawless as usual), it is really Streep’s performance that surprises and carries the film. Regularly nominated for her performances (for good or bad reasons), it is another stroke of genius from Spielberg to give her the role of a social and media-savvy aristocrat, which her male peers discredit carelessly. The audience can easily identify with these businessmen and be even more surprised by the velocity of Streep’s acting performance, and the emotional hold she imposes on the film. This was a more daring choice that it appears as this alliance between two legends leads to an undeniable successful result. The rest of the cast doesn’t demerit either and their performances, assisted by some clever editing gives a significant importance to the smallest roles and manages to reinforce the strength of feeling towards their characters, all bearers of symbolism (Spielberg even gives small roles to his children in an attempt to remind the audience that revolt comes from youth).
All these qualities make The Post a jewel of virtuosity, vivacity and intelligence.
The Post is released in the UK by Entertainment One on 21st May.
It is presented in a 1080p transfer respecting the film’s original 1.85:1 ratio. Overall the quality of the image is extremely impressive despite the film not having been shot for home cinema purposes. The colours are not particularly vivid (a conscious choice from Spielberg and his Director of Photography Janusz Kaminski) but this suits the Blu-ray, and the film itself, very well. The level of grain is quite adequate and details are also splendid.
On the sound side, the Blu-ray disc features three one audio track: English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio and an Audio Description track. All tracks are adequate for their respective purposes (the most impressive being the 7.1 of course) and I haven’t noticed any defects or distortions. The disc also features optional English subtitles for the Hearing Impaired.
The Blu-ray disc released in the UK for The Post offers the same extras offered by the US disc released in the US by 20th Century Fox. They are directed by Laurent Bouzereau, who often works on Spielberg's films, and covers all important aspects of the film. The only extra not featured on the UK disc is Stop the presses: Filming The Post which apparently only appears on iTunes (I haven’t watched it).
Layout: Katharine Graham, Ben Bradlee & The Washington Post (22 min, no subtitles) - This extra includes Spielberg, Kristie Macosko Krieger (Producer), Steve Coll (Former Washington Post Managing Editor), Streep, Len Downie Jr. (Former Washington Post Executive Editor), Hanks, Don Graham, Lally Graham Weymouth, Will Graham (respectively son, daughter and grandson of Katharine Graham), Sally Quinn (wife of Ben Bradlee), Andrew Rosenthal (son of Abe Rosenthal), Daniel Ellsberg (Former US Military Analyst), R.B. Brenner (Former Washington Post Metro Editor), Amy Pascal (Producer), Tim White (Executive Producer), Liz Hannah (Screenwriter/co-Producer), Evelyn J. Small (Editor/Research Archivist) discussing Katharine Graham’s life and career, her working relationship with Ben Bradlee, and the Pentagon Papers themselves. This is a nicely informative bonus which puts in perspective many elements of the film.
Editorial: The Cast and Characters of THE POST (16 min, no subtitles) - Featuring Spielberg, Hannah, Josh Singer (Screenwriter/ Executive Producer), Streep, Carrie Coon (Gone Girl), Hanks, David Cross (Arrested Development), Macosko Krieger, Janusz Kaminski (Director of Photography), Alison Brie (Mad Men), Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story), Greenwood, Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul), Jesse Plemons (Fargo), Matthew Rhys (The Americans), Whitford, Tracy Letts (Lady Bird), Jessie Mueller (Blue Bloods), Stark Sands (11:14), Michael Stuhlbarg (The Shape of Water) discussing the actors, how they know and work with each, other and the characters themselves. It also shows several pieces of footage behind-the-scenes of the film.
The Style Section: Re-Creating an Era (17 min, no subtitles) - This extra details the outstanding historical reconstitution of The Post. It features Rick Carter (Production Designer), Spielberg, Coll, Brenner, Hanks, Diana Burton (Property Master), Rena DeAngelo (Set Decorator), Letts, Streep, Coon, Odenkirk, Trevor White (Executive Producer), Pascal, Greenwood, Paulson, Macosko Krieger. It’s a great extra where you can actually see Spielberg operating a light on Rhys’ face to mimic the photocopier during one of the first pivotal scenes of the film.
Arts and Entertainment: Music for The Post (7 min, no subtitles) - Featuring footage of the recording sessions with Spielberg and Williams, this short piece has the director and composer discussing the music for key scenes of the film, in particular the telephone scene.