“Timely” is a word you’ll read often as the first wave of film critics have published their reviews of The Post, Steven Spielberg’s journalism drama about The Washington Post‘s efforts to publish The Pentagon Papers.
The film “is set in 1971, yet it couldn’t be more about 2017 if it tried,” EW’s Chris Nashawaty writes. That’s because the core conflict about a presidency (in this case, the Nixon administration) working to stifle the free press mirrors our current climate — it’s been three days since President Trump typed “fake news” into one of his tweets. But, according to film critics, it’s this mix of timeliness, Spielberg’s execution, and performances from Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks that will place The Post on the radars of Oscar voters.
The screenplay, written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, follows Katharine Graham (Streep), the first female publisher of The Washington Post, and editor Ben Bradlee (Hanks) as they hustle to catch up to The New York Times‘ coverage of a massive cover-up of government secrets across four U.S. Presidents. When the current administration places a gag order on The Times, Katharine and Ben face far worse consequences than prison in continuing this noble work.
Alison Brie, Carrie Coon, David Cross, Bruce Greenwood, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, Sarah Paulson, Jesse Plemons, Matthew Rhys, Michael Stuhlbarg, Bradley Whitford, and Zach Woods round out the cast.
Though, despite the performances and the impressive ensemble of supporting players, one critic says it “isn’t quite a work of art,” due in part to the “boundingly busy and a little too expository” writing. Others agree, pointing to how characters deliver exposition “purely for the benefit of the audience.”
In the end, the majority praised the “dynamic” film for using “the past to reinvigorate our resistance to the present,” accompanied by a “dynamite John Williams score” and Streep’s feminist-tinged delivery.
Read more reviews below.
Chris Nashawaty (Entertainment Weekly)
“The beauty of Streep’s performance (and it’s one of her best in years) is how she lets you see her grow into the responsibility of her position. She elevates The Post from being a First Amendment story to a feminist one, too. Spielberg makes these crucial days in American history easy to follow. But if you look at The Post next to something like All the President’s Men, you see the difference between having a story passively explained to you and actively helping to untangle it. That’s a small quibble with an urgent and impeccably acted film. But it’s also the difference between a very good movie and a great one.”
Owen Glieberman (Variety)
“It’s a potently watchable movie that isn’t quite a work of art. Two of Spielberg’s recent history films were also made in a messianic spirit of topical fervor: Munich, a dread-inflected thriller that addressed the post-9/11 world, and Lincoln, a kind of dramatized time machine that commented on our own increasingly fractious and divided political arena. Yet both those films had a depth and mystery and power that transcended the moment; you could watch them 20 years from now and they would still echo. The Post, written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer in a mode that’s boundingly busy and a little too expository, is a more functional, less imaginative movie — it’s high-carb docudrama prose rather than poetry. You can be stirred by what it’s saying and still feel that when it’s over, the film declares more than it reverberates.”
Todd McCarthy (The Hollywood Reporter)
“It’s a dramatic tale loaded with all manner of dynamics, political and personal, and Spielberg charges out of the gate at a brisk clip, extends his hand and all but enjoins the viewer to grab hold and be swept along for the ride. Secrecy is vital on all sides, and the stakes are high for everyone involved, from the journalists, who could be jailed for theft and conspiracy, to the administration, which is unknowingly marching down the path that will lead to Watergate.”
Alonso Duralde (The Wrap)
“The Post passes the trickiest tests of a historical drama: It makes us understand that decisions that have been validated by the lens of history were difficult ones to make in the moment, and it generates suspense over how all the pieces fell into place to make those decisions come to fruition. (Darkest Hour doesn’t do either half so well.) On the other hand, the script forces one character to tell another character something that he or she already knows — Ben reminds Kay of her chumminess with past presidents; Ben’s wife Tony (Paulson) explains to him the risk Kay is taking by approving the publication of the papers — purely for the benefit of the audience.”
Richard Lawson (Vanity Fair)
“Spielberg’s film is rousing and cannily made. It’s a straight-down-the-middle Hollywood liberal picture that might drop a big studio bomb on the year’s smaller Oscar hopefuls. The Post just hits so many of the right buttons, so effectively, that it seems like something made in a lab to win big showbiz awards handed out by happily comforted and inspired Democrats. Which may sound cynical. But that’s not the movie’s cynicism talking, really; it’s mine. Maybe the studio’s a bit, too.”
David Ehrlich (IndieWire)
“There’s topical, there’s timely, and then there’s The Post, which feels less like a historical thriller set in 1971 than it does an exhilarating caricature of the year 2017. While Steven Spielberg’s latest film rivetingly dramatizes the publication of the Pentagon Papers (and eloquently unpacks the consequences of their dissemination), The Post wears the Nixon era like a flimsy disguise that it wants you to see right through. That’s not to take away from Ann Roth’s ratty and exquisite period costume design, or to detract from how immaculately set decorator Rena DeAngelo recreated the smokey thrum of the old Washington Post newsroom. It’s certainly not to diminish Meryl Streep’s fraught and powerfully grounded portrayal of the late publishing scion Katharine Graham — she hasn’t been this good since Adaptation, or maybe even Death Becomes Her, if ever. On the contrary, it’s just to emphasize the extent to which The Post unambiguously uses the past to reinvigorate our resistance to the present — to stress that the film exists for no other reason.”
Matt Singer (ScreenCrush)
“After Lincoln and Bridge of Spies (also starring Hanks), The Post marks the conclusion of an informal trilogy — I call it the Civics Trilogy — that uses lessons of history to outline Spielberg’s vision of modern American values. Earlier in his career, he made movies about outsized heroes, who fended off killer dinosaurs and socked Nazis in the jaw. As he’s aged, Spielberg has grown increasingly interested with uplifting stories of everyday heroism about nonconformists of no particularly special abilities other than their willingness to walk a difficult path because it is the right thing to do. Critics call his messages simplistic and his tone schmaltzy. All I can tell you is The Post is the first movie that ever made me cry about an abstract concept. And when it was over, I found myself particularly happy to see Meryl Streep’s name first in the closing credits.”
Keith Phipps (UPROXX)
“This is as dynamic a film as Spielberg has ever made, with or without dinosaurs or whip-cracking archeologists. The camera glides through newsrooms, stately homes turned into chaotic offices, and casual gatherings that unexpectedly become the places where history gets made. There’s not a wasted moment as The Post packs what could be an overwhelming amount of information into a story that ultimately reveals itself as a Capra-esque morality play with deep roots in recent history and a style that sometimes calls back to the paranoid thrillers of the 1970s.”
Brian Truitt (USA Today)
At a time when the current administration sees the fourth estate as an arch enemy, The Post is an inspirational reminder of the importance of a free press while unabashedly making journalism look like the most awesome job ever — akin to what Raiders of the Lost Ark did for archaeology. The combination of the adventurous Spielbergian lens and a dynamite John Williams score jazzes up the most mundane newspaper conventions, from a copy editor striking words with a red pen to trucks rolling out with first editions. If only the same heroic anthems accompanied the writing of a movie review.
The Post will open in theaters on Dec. 22.