Despite being set in 1971 and centering on the Washington Post’s decision to publish the classified Pentagon papers, critics unanimously pointed out that the movie couldn’t resonate more with the present day.
In his review for Variety, Owen Gleiberman addressed the plot mirroring the current news cycle, writing, “‘The Post’ offers not so much a message as a warning: that freedom of the press is a fight that never stops, and that the force that keeps it going is the absolute die-hard belief in that freedom. When the press begins to accept restrictions, however grudgingly, it’s all but inviting itself to be muzzled.”
Many praised the film’s emphasis on free press being essential to democracy, along with the performances from stars Meryl Streep as the Post’s publisher Kay Graham and Tom Hanks as executive editor Ben Bradlee.
However, critics often compared it to 1976’s “All the President’s Men,” which focused on the Watergate scandal and chronicled similar struggles, with many saying Spielberg’s rendition didn’t live up to that movie.
Popular on Variety
“The Post” bows in limited release Dec. 22. See highlights from the critical response below:
“‘The Post’ is a movie of galvanizing relevance, one that’s all but certain to connect with an inspiringly wide audience (I predict a $100 million gross) and with the currents of awards season. That said, it’s a potently watchable movie that isn’t quite a work of art. ‘The Post,’ written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer in a mode that’s boundingly busy and a little too expository, is a more functional, less imaginative movie — it’s high-carb docudrama prose rather than poetry. You can be stirred by what it’s saying and still feel that when it’s over, the film declares more than it reverberates.The Pentagon Papers marked an iconic moment in American history: the press claiming its own freedom to call out the excesses of power. ‘The Post’ celebrates what that means, tapping into an enlightened nostalgia for the glory days of newspapers, but the film also takes you back to a time when the outcome was precarious, and the freedoms we thought we took for granted hung in the balance. Just as they do today.”
“Liz Hannah and Josh Singer’s screenplay crackles with intrigue but goes overboard in trying to mirror today’s 24/7 news cycle. The word ‘collusion’ coming up in conversation sticks out to any casual cable-news viewer, there’s a president waging a petty war against media outlets and threatening to pull access over insignificant matters, plus Graham’s side of the story offers a strong feminist angle. Bradlee’s wife Tony (an underutilized Sarah Paulson) is there mainly to remind her spouse — and the audience — about the publisher’s one-woman fight against a patriarchy that wants to put her in her place. (It should come as no surprise that, nevertheless, she persisted.) And it’s a role that’s built for Streep to slay — she has a few rousing speeches that’ll definitely make Oscar voters take note. Hanks is just as enjoyable as a hard-charging and immensely likable leader who sends interns on recon missions and tells in-house lawyers to buzz off when there’s an important expose to be had.”
“Spielberg can’t help but turn ‘The Post’ into a ‘message movie.’ He rises to our current moment on stilts, with a megaphone and a swelling John Williams score. The beauty of Streep’s performance (and it’s one of her best in years) is how she lets you see her grow into the responsibility of her position. She elevates ‘The Post‘ from being a First Amendment story to a feminist one, too. Spielberg makes these crucial days in American history easy to follow. But if you look at ‘The Post’ next to something like ‘All the President’s Men,’ you see the difference between having a story passively explained to you and actively helping to untangle it. That’s a small quibble with an urgent and impeccably acted film. But it’s also the difference between a very good movie and a great one.”
“The script is chockful of the kinds of platitudes that would ordinarily arm critics with enough artillery to eviscerate a movie for being corny, heavy-handed, or unforgivably maudlin. But with towering, bonafide movie star performances by Streep and Hanks — respectively the best they’ve been in years — and an assured, almost dutiful directorial energy from Spielberg, ‘The Post’ becomes less a movie than a mission.”
“If there’s one thing ‘The Post’ does well it’s capturing the struggle that comes when personal relationships and hard journalism. But there’s a lot the movie can’t pull off. The flow of the story has a lot of false starts, the John Williams score isn’t as powerful as his other legendary pieces for the director, and there are a couple of moments that are probably the lamest I’ve ever seen in a Spielberg movie. At times feeling like a stage play, ‘The Post’ is fueled by the performances of its incredible cast — including Tracy Letts, Carrie Coon, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Alison Brie, and David Cross — but often the scenes drag on too long. I’m extremely conflicted with ‘The Post.’ There are some very powerful moments. And the movie is timely with what’s going on in the country today (a rarity for narrative studio movies). But the latter might have led to its downfall. The speed to get the movie out the door may have prompted choices that, with more time, would have been thought out better.”
“‘The Post’s’ vaguely overlapping crises-of-conscience (business vs. journalism, politics vs. public trust, readers vs. insiders) come down to one question: Does The Washington Post go ahead with its front-page article? The decision falls on Graham, a Beltway socialite who took over the paper after her husband committed suicide. (That said husband was picked by Graham’s father to run the Post — that is, he married into the business that she grew up in — is one clue to the gender politics at work here.) Though Liz Hannah and Josh Singer’s screenplay has no shortage of interesting but only partially articulated ideas, the center of ‘The Post‘ is a blur. ‘Bridge Of Spies,’ the last Spielberg movie to take a field trip to the Supreme Court, had a more convoluted narrative, but it also had its lawyer hero’s unrelenting principles to fall back on — not to mention its sense of wit.”
“Remarkably, ‘The Post’ manages to trace all of these angles and to plunge deeply into several. More than that, it gets the big picture right and a lot of the details, too. Despite its few flaws, ‘The Post‘ is an enthralling film: brisk, funny, suspenseful, inspiring. And to a former newspaper reporter, like myself, who came up in the wake of the events it depicts, it’s also a nostalgic tearjerker.”