Blu-ray Review: The Post

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Steven Spielberg's weak streak continues with the Oscar-nominated 2017 political drama The Post. Looking back on recent years, it seems Spielberg has lost his way: Bridge of Spies (2015), a big ol' slice of Cold War hokum... The BFG (2016), an incredibly ho-hum children's fantasy. And now history's most commercially-successful director crafts a prequel (of sorts) to All the President's Men. Now out on Blu-ray, this Best Picture nominee is ready for an admittedly better viewing forum: the small screen. It's the kind of pseudo-character-driven drama that works better on TV.

Here's the main problem with The Post: the "story," such that it is, simply isn't all that cinematic. No matter of gifted a visual stylist Spielberg may be, he cannot make endless phone calls and hand-wringing visually interesting. Meryl Streep (also Oscar nominated) stars as Washington Post owner/publisher Katherine Graham. Never having planned on running the Post on her own, she inherited the duties after her husband's suicide. Post editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks, phoning in a lazily prototypical Hanks-like performance as he did in Bridge of Spies), struggling to boost the Post's circulation, engages in a scoop-a-thon with competitor The New York Times.

Military analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) has been leaking confidential information about U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War to the Times. While the Times stirs up a national awakening regarding the realities of the on-going situation in Vietnam, Bradlee wants in on it too. Post Assistant Editor Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) happens to have an association with Ellsberg, so he proceeds to obtain the same info the Times has been running. As the Nixon administration threatens to compromise freedom of the press, the papers compete with one another to bring the truth about the failings of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara's (Bruce Greenwood) escalating operations. 
 
Post_Streep.jpg Not to diminish the efforts of Graham and Bradlee, but wouldn't the more interesting story have been told from the New York Times' point of view? Were they not the paper doing the majority of the legwork? The Post appears to have merely followed the trail they blazed in a desperate effort to keep up.

Bagdikian fumbling with spare change at a phone booth as he frantically tries to recall a half-heard phone number just isn't that compelling. And the dialogue (by Liz Hannah—her first time—and Josh Singer of Spotlight renown) is too speechifying to ring true. Speaking of striking a false note, Hanks and even Streep both feel too stagey throughout to be effective. We can see them acting—make that Acting—the entire time. To be fair, it's hard to blame them for being overly mannered. After all, they're stuck in such a static "drama," they seem to be doing all they can to inject some life into something that reads better as a history lesson.

Fox Home Entertainment's Blu-ray sports some decent bonus material (featurettes arranged as "sections" in a newspaper) with insights into the real people portrayed in The Post. "Layout: Katharine Graham, Ben Bradlee & The Washington Post" runs about 20 minutes and features some interesting historical background. "The Style Section: Recreating an Era" (15 minutes) spotlights the crew's efforts to authentically represent the visuals of the '70s. There's also "Stop the Presses: Filming The Post" (25 minutes) with production footage, and "Editorial: The Cast and Characters of The Post" (15 minutes) which helps add more historical context. Shortest is the seven-minute "Arts & Entertainment: Music for The Post" about John Williams' score.

On top of The Post's dreary pace, its ending is such a foregone conclusion that Spielberg can't generate any real sense of suspense. With big names like Streep and Hanks, and all the technical panache normally found in a Spielberg film, it's not hard to see why The Post raked in accolades despite its decidedly mediocre feel.

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Chaz Lipp is a Las Vegas-based musician and freelance writer. His new jazz album 'Good Merlin' is now available.

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