Nobody is going to deny that Steven Spielberg's The Post was an Oscarbaiter of epic proportions. It's packed with Oscar manna like Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, and rounded out with character pros like Bob Odenkirk and Jesse Plemons. It is topical - too topical some might say, hitting the nail right on the head in a bit of a forced attempt to highlight the role of a free and independent press in constraining the power of government. And of course it is made in the self-serious style the Academy loves, a meticulously developed and filmed period piece about a slice of American history that is particularly resonant in today's frayed political and social environment.
It was perhaps too transparent in its ambitious, actually. Many reviewers felt that the film was trying too hard to be a Serious Movie about Important Things. Given that it apes the material and, to some extent, the style of previous Serious Movies that arguably did it better, like All The President's Men, it wasn't much of a surprise that it only nabbed two Oscar noms (Best Picture and Best Actress for Meryl Streep) and came up empty on both.
I enjoyed the movie very much, but it was hardly groundbreaking. It leaned a little too hard into the self-evident importance of its subject matter: the role of the fourth estate in speaking truth to power. And I wasn't in love with the portrayal of Katharine Graham as a mousey woman in a world of men who comes into her own by finally standing up for what is right by daring to publish. It was too easy, too comfortably paced and too simply plotted with a neat little character arc for our heroine as she overcomes the obstacles society places in her way. As this review from Graham's unofficial biographer makes clear, there was a much more interesting, dynamic and complex character there waiting to be developed but it never happened because it would have fucked up her Hero's Journey. And that's a shame.
But mainly when the film finished I found myself wondering: Who is this for? If you are acquainted with the basics of American history and politics, you already know this story and why it is important, although the way the film portrays the complex social dynamics that existed back then between the tight-knit circle of wealthy cosmopolitan elites in New York and Washington added a nice extra layer of complexity. And for people like me who are already well-versed in this stuff, the ham-fisted ending that made damn sure you wouldn't miss that this was a prelude to Watergate was off-putting. It's not necessary and it just tries too hard. You don't need to make the subtext text.
On the other hand, for someone who doesn't know the Pentagon Papers from Dunder Mifflin paper, I imagine this film would have been an absolute bore. Not much happens - a bunch of hand-wringing from neurotic, entitled rich white people about the finer points of constitutional law. Unlike All The President's Men, there is no drama about breaking the story - Ellsberg mailed all the evidence to everybody and everybody knew it was him. As a think-piece on the obligation of the press to hold authority accountable, it is certainly an interesting inflection point, but I'm just not sure if it benefited from or needed the Spielberg treatment.
In the end, we are left with a movie that repeatedly stresses its own importance (and in case you didn't get it, just read an interview with anyone involved in the film and they will confirm that, indeed, it is a very important movie), and is so carefully manufactured to hit the Serious Movie about Important Things checklist that it actually diminishes the impact it might have had a bit. Still, I enjoyed it. But I am a nerd.