I enjoyed The Post way more than expected.
Given the movie’s blindingly obvious topicality, and the less-than-subtle talents involved (Steven Spielberg! John Williams! Tom Hanks!), I figured watching it would be akin to sitting front row at a vaudeville act catered to the cheap seats in the balcony.
Theatricality actually plays a big part in the picture, largely thanks to the murderers’ row of a recognizable ensemble poached from the New York theatre scene, all of whom turn in expectedly phenomenal performances dialed to a precisely calibrated, crowd-pleasing register (the exception: Tom Hanks in an eye-rollingly amusing, paint-by-numbers turn as Tom Hanks with an accent, AKA Ben Bradlee).
Add in Liz Hannah and Josh Singer’s whip-smart — and fast as a whip — screenplay, the accompanying propulsively-paced editing, and the sheer fact that Spielberg still knows how to make old-school Hollywood entertainment, and it’s hard not to be taken along for the ride. Does he still overly spell out EVERYTHING he’s trying to communicate so that even the dumbest person in the audience will understand the entire shebang? As always! Spielberg’s never been one to leave the audience with abstract, even esoteric gaps in which they can project their own meaning into the proceedings, thereby personalizing the work for them. Rather, he’s long controlled every aspect of his productions, and his overbearing hand often creates a stuffy atmosphere that prioritizes straightforward storytelling over subtextual substance.
Even so, The Post works on every level (except perhaps as a thought provoking work).
Yes, I’ve purposefully held off on mentioning one person until now: Meryl Streep. Given her recent…unrestrained performances (to put it mildly), I assumed she’d yet again chew her way through the scenery (and Ann Roth’s sumptuous period costumes). Don’t get me wrong; Streep is one of the greatest actors in the history of cinema. But in the last few years, that earned reputation seems to have blinded some from seeing how frequently she’s gone over the top.
You can claim that her overwhelming fame nowadays prevents her from becoming as lost in roles in the eyes of the beholder, but I actually think it has more to do with a change in her acting style over the last 10 years.
Back in the day, she was an inside-out actor; she excavated her character’s interiority, and then externalized that resonant introspection. Yet ever since The Devil Wears Prada, she’s done the opposite, focusing on external tics and letting those provide a window into the characters’ interiority; this style of performance is just so much more obvious. She’s always incandescently radiant to watch on screen, but this obviousness often forces her to be the focus, even if the part calls for her 20th century chameleonism, often resulting in her standing out too much from the lizards around her.
Since she finally toned it back down for The Post, it’s her best turn since Prada. For the first time in forever, she actually deserves that 21st (!) Academy Awards nomination.