The Post ★★★★

Can't exactly refute any of the criticisms people have widely made of Steven Spielberg's slick, middlebrow exploration of the publication of the Pentagon Papers by the New York Times and the Washington Post; it's weird that the film is about the Post and not the Times, the casting of Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks potentially puts it squarely in prestige picture hell (though the stunt casting elsewhere is quite fun), and it has the usual excessive hand-holding and syrup so common to its director's films. But if there's a Utopian ideal of "my kind of movie," this is pretty much it -- detailed period pieces about this sort of intrigue are catnip to me, and Spielberg is the world's most popular filmmaker because he's fucking terrific at telling stories in a gripping, elegant manner. Hanks and Streep are both fine as heroes Ben Bradlee and Katharine Graham, the script is neatly plotted and well-structured, and the whole thing serves us well as a way of talking about history without really being about it. I can't defend it on serious artistic grounds -- it's no All the President's Men or Zodiac; it's not even a Spotlight -- but it is a cracking good time, and there's a certain weird satisfaction in its complete lack of subtlety. (Willing to bet that a good number of the detractors are complaining mostly about John Williams without realizing it.)

Speaking of ATPM, to which the film functions directly as a prequel, it's interesting that Spielberg corrects a long-standing wrong by putting Frank Wills' name in the script, sort of a micro equivalent to his centering an entire film on Graham, who features prominently in Woodward and Bernstein's book but was cut from the film.

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