Not unlike P.T. Anderson’s Phantom Thread, when it comes to Oscar odds, everyone left room for Steven Spielberg’s latest, The Post. It features a heavyweight ensemble led by Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, and it’s about the Washington Post going up against Nixon’s administration over the publication of the Pentagon Papers—it couldn’t be timelier in the current political climate. The first trailer arrived this week, and The Post has “awards” stamped all over it, but it also has the extra weight of real-world context, which will undoubtedly feature heavily in the inevitable Oscar campaign.
I’m not sold on the trailer itself, though. It doesn’t look bad—how can anything shot by Spielberg and starring Hanks and Streep be BAD—but it’s not quite clicking, either. Spotlight is a movie about journalism that puts human faces to a sweeping, devastating scandal. All The President’s Men is a movie about journalists caught up in political intrigue. In both cases, there is a narrative hook beyond the basic story blocks of journalists uncovering a story. Journalism is kind of like hacking—it’s not a cinematic endeavor, and so stories about journalism and/or journalists need some kind of hook to direct the action.
It’s not clear what the hook is in The Post, besides a slew of big name stars and director, and the inevitable avalanche of nominations that will follow (unless the movie completely sucks, and I don’t think Spielberg is capable of that). It doesn’t have to be some super complicated thriller plot or anything like that, there just needs to be dramatic momentum beyond the broad strokes of the true story, because we know how that ends (the Washington Post is still around). There’s a hint that it could be Kay Graham’s battle against gender bias, as she was the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company, which happened to be her family’s publishing empire. But, Tom Hanks is also in this movie, and there is equal suggestion the hook could be Ben Bradlee’s efforts to unwind the story of the Pentagon Papers. Maybe it’s both! (That would be a mistake, they’re two different stories.) So, the question remains: What is going to make this more than a fancy documentary reenactment?