The story of the Pentagon Papers is important and timely, but, as with many of Spielberg’s films of the last twenty years, I sense that Spielberg has creatively checked out.
My gripes: a cast of overused actors (like everyone, I love Tom Hanks, but he was an uninspired choice here); corny humor (the little girl and the lemonade stand); the artificial banter Spielberg has his characters engage in as they talk over themselves in a chaotic but really choreographed and phony way (Spielberg used to be a real pro at this—see the dinner table scenes in E.T., which seem scarily authentic).
Worst of all were the periodic moments of melodrama when some character steps into the light and makes a grand pronouncement about the nobility of journalism. I don’t disagree with the message, but the delivery is cheesy! You don’t see characters in All the President’s Men or Spotlight embarrassing themselves with such schmaltz—rather, those stories very subtly and very maturely say all they have to about the nobility of journalism.
Lastly, the movie lacks any sense of atmosphere or style. It just seemed hastily and formulaically thrown together, the theme timely enough and the actors prestigious enough to possibly help Spielberg pad his resume with more award nominations. Someone like a David Fincher could have lent a movie like this some seriousness and style.