Steven Spielberg's political thriller falls flat despite critical acclaim

Though “The Post” garnered buzz in the movie world weeks before its release date, it was less of an inspiration than simply a critical darling — a film we’re supposed to like, but don’t really enjoy.

The film, released on Jan. 12, is based on the true story of journalists from The Washington Post who published the findings of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. The Pentagon Papers were a top-secret government study conducted by the Department of Defense on the United States’ involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967. The damning papers famously vindicated the American people’s rising opposition to the war and exposed underlying political motivations and illicit attacks in Vietnam. The gripping historical basis for this story draws in political junkies, journalists and movie lovers alike. While the historical account is dramatic, fast-paced, and overall captivating to watch unfold on screen, the execution fell short of my expectations based on the talent included in the film’s credits.

The New York Times’ initial publication of the papers led to an injunction from the government, forcing the Times to cease publication on related stories. At the time, The Washington Post was owned by Katharine “Kay” Graham, played by Meryl Streep. The Post was in possession of their own copy of the Pentagon Papers, and Graham was tasked with the decision of whether to risk defying the government’s aggressive censure of the press.

The most dominant theme in the movie is feminism. The beginning of the film paints Graham as an intelligent woman, bogged down by the male-dominated circle of Washington elite. Graham’s character is conspicuously overshadowed in nearly every scene during the first three quarters of the film. The reduction of her character is a purposeful move meant to accentuate the patriarchal nature of the corporate world into which she was thrust into following the death of her husband, the previous owner. Her constant dismissal by male counterparts on the board of the Post highlights the patriarchal status quo of the times, but marks a sharp contrast in the last quarter of the movie.

The film creates a slow burning anticipation for Graham to assert herself as the capable owner of her family’s newspaper, showing Graham scouring contracts, taking meetings and dining with the former Secretary of Defense. Graham’s character flips the script on male figures of her time, after making the pivotal decision to publish the Pentagon Papers.

She very suddenly falls into the role of an assertive boss and dives into collaboration with Ben Bradlee, the Post’s executive editor, played by Tom Hanks. Although I understood that her assertion of power was an inspiring, feminist move — defying the patriarchy — it came across as disingenuous and rushed. The scenes at the beginning of the movie that contrast her abilities as a shrewd businesswoman behind closed doors and as a fumbling, timid woman in the presence of powerful men make her transformation to an assertive white knight for journalism and women alike a little unbelievable. Graham comes across like an overly conspicuous, Hollywood version of a woman breaking the glass ceiling with a single power move. Rather than seeing a creative and gradual character development throughout the film, there is no deviate from the cliches and story arch pitfalls you’d expect in such a film.

For what was meant to be a movie that played on the current political climate, the women in the film other than Graham were vastly underplayed. Throughout the film, the screen is distinctly male-dominated, bringing to the audience’s attention a world above the glass ceiling, void of women’s influence. The film was deliberate in forcing the audience to consider the absence of women throughout the film — women are distinctly absent. It seemed like a deliberate homage to the current discussion about women in the workplace, but it lacked any deeper meaning or investigation.

It seems as if the rush to release the movie left gaps and errors, and led to a lack of depth, especially concerning the portrayal of other important female characters. One such character, Meg Greenfield, played by Carrie Coon, was the editorial writer for the Post at the time and played a key role in analyzing the Pentagon Papers. She won a Pulitzer Prize in 1978 for editorial writing and in her last scene, as John Williams’ orchestra plays the inspirational victory music, you hear her telling the style desk that they need to run fewer stories about shoes.

The release of the film sits comfortably in a conversation about the nation’s current political climate. President Donald Trump’s administration has repeatedly claimed that the media is biased against him, coining and popularizing the term “fake news.” Steven Spielberg, the critically acclaimed director of the film, told a Hollywood audience after a screening, that he rushed to get “The Post” filmed and produced within a year.

“I just felt that there was an urgency to reflect 1971 and 2017 because they were terrifyingly similar,” Spielberg said.

Although “The Post” portrays a story that’s undoubtedly important to tell, the timing of the film seems to walk the line between amplifying the voice for ongoing social movements like #MeToo and cheaply capitalizing on the divisive political climate to sell tickets.

I wanted to leave the theater feeling as though I saw a movie of the year, but I didn’t. While “The Post” is worth seeing for the captivating story, it doesn’t leave you with a feeling that you saw something exceptional. Overall, it is based on a fantastic story and features a top-notch cast, but the film falls short of a timeless ode to the importance of journalistic freedom.