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The Post

I’m afraid I have to start this review with a request for you, my dear readers.

Longtime readers might be familiar with Living Room Theaters, a fantastic independent movie theater in the heart of downtown Portland. They filed a lawsuit against Regal Cinemas on February 20th. At the time, Living Room Theaters and Regal Fox Tower 10 — another of my favorite theaters in downtown Portland — were both playing Call Me By Your Name. And the lawsuit alleges that Living Room Theaters had to stop showing the movie at the request of Sony Pictures Classics.

Why? Because according to the lawsuit, Living Room Theaters was outselling the Fox Tower on tickets for this particular movie. So Regal called up Sony Pictures Classics and strong-armed them into pulling the movie from Living Room Theaters.

I am deeply upset that Regal would resort to such an illegal, unethical, outrageous act of cowardice. No company so huge as Regal Cinemas should ever have to resort to such petty bullying against a smaller competitor. There is no excuse for this.

To that end, I am humbly dedicating today’s review to the good people at Living Room Theaters, with all of my support and gratitude for their service to our local moviegoers. I hope you will all join me in boycotting Regal Cinemas for the foreseeable future, at least until this lawsuit is resolved. The downside, alas, is that this will have a significant effect on which movies I’ll be able to review and when.

So here’s The Post, a movie about the journalists at the Washington Post who reported on the infamous Pentagon Papers. Over 4,000 pages of highly classified memos and reports, detailing how politicians and military brass knew for decades that a war in Vietnam was unwinnable, but they kept on lying to the public and drafting young men to die for nothing. So the federal government moved to stop the publication of these documents and there was this massive debate over freedom of the press versus national security. On top of that, the film was directed by Steven Spielberg, with Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep headlining a cast of seasoned talents… really, the review writes itself.

You already know exactly what you’re in for, and the movie makes little effort to subvert expectations. Except for when the filmmakers padded out the runtime in so many misguided ways. You see, the movie is really at its best when it really delves into the conflict of a free press versus a government that can keep military and diplomatic secrets. The only problem is, that stuff only makes up something like a third of the running time. Seriously, the Post doesn’t even obtain the actual Pentagon papers until the halfway point.

This is a story about investigative reporting, so it’s understandable that the characters will lead the plot into some dead ends while they’re chasing down leads. The movie also comments on an era in which politicians were close personal friends with reporters, which allowed the press to get more access to better sources in some cases but led to a terrible conflict of interest when less favorable stories need printing. Plus, this is right about the time when the Post was going public — a federal lawsuit could destroy the paper once and for all at a time when the Post is at an especially tenuous tipping point, so the stakes are raised accordingly.

I understand why all of this stuff was included. Unfortunately, it means spending the entire first half of the movie bouncing between meetings, looking at different groups of old white people talking about money and family, trading bad jokes, partaking in dialogue that has virtually nothing to do with what we came for. As a direct result, the pacing is shot to hell and it’s boring as fuck.

What makes it all even worse is how this is very much an Awards Drama, and the filmmakers don’t ever want you to forget it. The actors are all mugging for the camera, which swoops right up into their faces so we don’t miss a single teardrop. And that’s not when the camera is swooping around so we can see all the rich white people talking about their first world problems from every angle.

All of this is best illustrated by Kay Graham, the publisher of the Washington Post. So much of the tension and drama in this movie stems from Kay’s anxiety, her lack of confidence, and her uncertainty about what to do. She’s not much of a businesswoman, and she’s a woman in a male-dominated world, to boot. None of this is inherently awful, except for two key points. First, while institutional sexism is a timely subject worthy of discussion, it has basically nothing to do with the timely and worthy subject of a free press. The two issues clash rather than dovetail, so both topics come off as half-baked and the feminist angle looks like an unfortunate waste of time.

Which brings me to the second reason this doesn’t work: Kay Graham is played here by Meryl Streep. And the filmmakers want you to know it. Her performance, the camerawork, the script, the editing, everything about every frame of her screen time went toward forcibly reminding us that we are watching a Meryl Streep Performance, as if anyone would have to work this hard to get her another Oscar nod (just look at Florence Foster Jenkins, for fuck’s sake). The effect is that while the filmmakers wanted us to see a woman uncertain in her actions and uncomfortable in her position; they also wanted us to see the most respected, accomplished, and outspoken woman in all of show business (with the debatable exception of Oprah Winfrey). And it can’t work both ways.

It’s very much like that with the entire cast. Tom Hanks, Tracy Letts, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Bradley Whitford, Alison Brie, Jesse Plemons, Zach Woods, David Cross… these are all proven and talented actors. There’s no doubt that any or all of them could have given convincing performances, but the filmmakers were too busy padding out the runtime with scenes of overwrought dialogue and close-up shots, contributing nothing but one Oscar Clip after another.

So is this a bad movie? Well, no. After all, it’s undeniable that a wide array of talents went into this picture, so of course the end result is going to be watchable. And while we do have to cut through a lot of extraneous filler (seriously, this two-hour movie feels twice as long), the picture is genuinely compelling when we get to the stuff that really matters. There’s even a neat bit of comic relief in places — there’s one bit with a lemonade stand that’s especially funny.

All told, The Post is a textbook example of “so good it’s bad” filmmaking. It’s a movie that does nothing wrong because it takes no chances and says nothing new. It stays perfectly within the lines, doing nothing especially well or terribly, but does exactly what it’s supposed to and expects an Oscar as a participation trophy. It’s not poorly made, it’s just boring and too complacent in its own sense of self-importance.

It’s certainly worth seeing for the Oscar completionists, but nobody else should bother.

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