Review: Story, dialogue, drama, ‘The Post’ delivers despite being based on real-life events

Marcus Goh
PHOTO: United International Pictures

Films based on high profile, relatively well-known “true stories” usually emphasise performance and pacing over plot. After all, it’s difficult to maintain tension when most of your audience already knows how the film will end.

PHOTO: United International Pictures

Viewers of “The Post” will probably already know the events that the movie is based on. The political thriller is based on the “The Washington Post” and the obstacles they faced in publishing the Pentagon Papers, a classified study about the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War. Of course, such papers are classified for a reason, which emerges as one of the major hurdles that the protagonists have to overcome.

PHOTO: United International Pictures

Despite audiences knowing the story beforehand, Tom Hanks (Ben Bradlee) and Meryl Streep (Katherine Graham) turn in masterful performances as the two characters who have to make the momentous decision of publishing the papers in their newspaper. Their (non-romantic) relationship is a nuanced and well-developed one, an odd work friendship that has them balancing personal issues against their duty as custodians of the news. Their characterisation comes mostly from what they don’t say, rather than their actual dialogue.

PHOTO: United International Pictures

Even so, the script is strong and snappy, balancing jibes and quips with longer monologues about purpose and meaning. It doesn’t go so far as to explore existentialism, but it does explore a common problem faced by newsmakers the world over — balancing commercial interests against journalistic integrity.

It’s interesting to see how such conflicts existed even in the 70s (when the movie takes place), and how such concerns have plagued the newsrooms for far longer than the average person might think. After all, most (non-journalistic audiences) might feel that profit-making interests only became an issue in the modern day, but the film sheds light on these difficulties occurring almost 40 years ago.

PHOTO: United International Pictures

To make up for the lack of tension in the plot, “The Post” does inject a little too much melodrama into the climax of the film. Understandably, stakes are heightened so that the implications of failure are obvious. However, the problems faced are magnified to the the point where they strain belief, especially since the characters are not all that relatable to the common man.

PHOTO: United International Pictures

The movie ends in a slightly cartoonish way, with several scenes that felt like they would have fit in better in a post-credits sequence rather than as the conclusion of the film.

However, “The Post” is not the sort of film that would warrant a post-credits scene, so the best place to have fit in those scenes would have been at the end. Whether those scenes added more dramatic value to the film is debatable, since they seemed to be setting up an (unnecessary) sequel rather than truly fleshing out the story.

PHOTO: United International Pictures

Having watched the film with a full-time journalist, my viewing partner sniggered at some scenes (which lacked context to me) which contained several in-jokes for those in the news industry. Regular audiences would appreciate such exchanges as generating drama and conflict, but there is another layer of sarcasm that will appeal to those who have even a modicum of journalistic experience.

PHOTO: United International Pictures

“The Post” delivers an excellent story that’s replete with fantastic dialogue and excellent drama. While you might know how the movie ends, based on general knowledge, the film focuses on the journey of the characters, rather than the destination. It’s deserving of all the praise that has been lauded on it thus far, without being entirely inaccessible to non-American audiences.

PHOTO: United International Pictures

Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? Yes.

Should you watch this more than once? No.

Score: 4.0/5

Secret ending? No.

Running time: 116 minutes (~2 hours)

PHOTO: United International Pictures

“The Post” is an American political drama that’s based on the controversy of publishing of the Pentagon Papers in the 70’s.

The film is directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer. It stars Meryl Streep (Katherine Graham), Tom Hanks (Ben Bradlee), Sarah Paulson (Antoinette Bradlee), Bob Odenkirk (Ben Bagdikian), Tracy Letts (Fritz Beebe), Bradley Whitford (Arthur Parsons), Bruce Greenwood (Robert McNamara), Matthew Rhys (Daniel Ellsberg), Alison Brie (Lally Graham), Carrie Coon (Meg Greenfield), Jesse Plemons (Roger Clark), and David Cross (Howard Simons). It is rated PG-13.

“The Post” opens in cinemas:
– 18 January, 2018 (Singapore)
– 21 February, 2018 (Philippines)

Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter, having written for “Lion Mums”, “Crimewatch”, “Incredible Tales”, and “Police & Thief”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.

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