Review: The Post is lazy and rushed would-be prequel to All The Presidents Men

Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee and Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham in The Post. Photo: Twentieth Century

Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee and Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham in The Post. Photo: Twentieth Century Fox/Entertainment One - Credit: Twentieth Century Fox/Entertainment One

Steven Spielberg's dramatisation of events leading up to the high-profile legal wrangling between The Washinton Post and President Nixon feels relevant in the era of fake news and presidential Twitter outbursts but is self-serving and smug.

Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee and Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham in The Post. Photo: Twentieth Century

Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee and Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham in The Post. Photo: Twentieth Century Fox/Entertainment One - Credit: Twentieth Century Fox/Entertainment One

The Post (12A)

**

Until now Steven Spielberg, a buddy of George Lucas since before they were successful, has largely steered clear of the prequel business.

Here though he sort of gives us All The Presidents Men: The Early Days, the story of how the Washington Post, the paper that would break the Watergate story, risked its future in the early 1970s by defying President Nixon and publishing the leaked Pentagon Papers, a study of all the lies and cover-ups involved in the Vietnam War, going back more than two decades all the way to the Truman administration.

Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Paul Ignatius, Bradley Whitford, Jesse Plemons and Tracey Letts in The Post

Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Paul Ignatius, Bradley Whitford, Jesse Plemons and Tracey Letts in The Post. Photo: Twentieth Century Fox/Entertainment One - Credit: Twentieth Century Fox/Entertainment One

Nixon had brought the full legal might of his administration against the New York Times when they published extracts from it, leaked by Daniel Ellsberg ( Matthew Rhys).

The film's narrative is the battle for Post editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks, good but no Jason Robards) to persuade owner Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) to publish further extracts, even though they could face jail and it might scupper attempts to float the company on the stock market.

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A story about the conflict between finance and press ethics and the importance of a free press to confront an authoritarian Republican President: you can see why Spielberg felt the need to make this right now.

The director always works quick, but this was made while the effects works were being finished for his next film Ready Player One and it feels rushed.

Matthew Rhys as Daniel Ellsberg and Bob Odenkirk as Ben Bagdikian in The Post. Photo: Twentieth Cent

Matthew Rhys as Daniel Ellsberg and Bob Odenkirk as Ben Bagdikian in The Post. Photo: Twentieth Century Fox/Entertainment One - Credit: Twentieth Century Fox/Entertainment One

There is nothing to mark it out as a Spielberg film. Even something like Bridge Of Spies had little moments that were special bits of filmmaking.

A brief opening scene in Vietnam is accompanied by a Creedence Clearwater Revival track; outside of The Doors just about the laziest possible musical choice for a Nam sequence. It's far from being his worst film, but it is his most anonymous.

Overall this is a very standard newspaper drama, men and a few women speaking earnestly in rooms. It's perfectly fine, but no Spotlight.

The only things that startle you are Hanks lighting up a cigarette and extracts of Nixon himself speaking taken, I presume, from the secret recordings he made of events in The White House. It's oddly reassuring hearing Tricky Dicky, you forget what a slimy little fascist he was and it throws some perspective upon the present incumbent: we made it through Nixon, maybe things will turn out right.

Hold the front page – the 10 best films about journalistsThe Post is not really a film in the conventional sense, more a dramatised Oscar acceptance speech in which a gang of performers stick their necks out very slightly, by dramatising the actions of people who stuck their necks out a hell of a distance. It's self-serving and smug, and self-defeating as it will only be seen by people who already think that this Trump fellow is perfectly ghastly.

And I could stand all that if it wasn't for Meryl Streep. She plays Graham as a Florence Foster Jenkins variation, a dithering high society widow who gets dismissed or patronised by people who don't believe she's up to the job (which is not unreasonable seeing as she inherited the company when her husband committed suicide) and when she finally gets a backbone and backs Bradlee to run the story it is shown as some great feminist victory.

It's unbearable and the inevitable Oscar nominations will be enough to have me reaching for a Make America Great baseball cap.

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