Bridge Of Spies
Tom Hanks & Steven Spielberg
Tom Hanks as James Donovan, Mark Rylance as Rudolf Abel and Billy Magnusson as Douglas Forrester in BRIDGE OF SPIES, a dramatic thriller directed by Steven Spielberg.
Aside from Age of Ultron and Ant-Man, this is the first movie I saw in the theater since coming home, and it’s the first review I’m writing in two years. So, I’ll do my best to give an intelligent critique of this one.
Steven Spielberg…it’d be a waste of time and typing effort to go on about this legend. What can be said about his career that hasn’t been said? His are most of the movies that changed the way movies are made. He’s been a massive influence on every serious filmmaker since his time, and when he talks about the future of the industry, we print it as prophecy.
Although, to be fair, you know as well as I do that not everything he touched was worth Oscar gold (A.I., War of the Worlds). So, it’s become a matter of intrigue that every time a movie is released under his direction, it’s not just “What’s the Master got in store for us this time?”. More like, “Is this gonna be one of his hits, or misses?” Well, while I wouldn’t put up there with, say, E.T. or Schindler’s List, it’s thankfully doesn’t go along with A.I. or War of the Worlds or that stupid Jurassic Park sequel I still don’t think he needed to make. I’d put it somewhere in the middle with, oh…War Horse or Empire of the Sun. Nothing I’d call substantial, but he still did a good job with it, and I’m glad I saw it.
Bridge of Spies is based on true events taking place around Cold War paranoia in the late 1950s, when the CIA captures an accused Soviet spy named Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance, in a touching and sometimes quite funny performance). Tom Hanks gives an up-to-par performance as James Donovan, the lawyer assigned to defend Abel for the sake of due process. But, considering the mindset on the Soviets at that time, the trial really was a formality, and Abel was found guilty on all charges. It sort of reminded me of the Muslim kid who got in trouble for the clock. Hmm….Still, Donovan developed something of a friendship with this guy, and to this day it’s not confirmed whether or not he was really a spy. So Donovan is actually able to waive the death sentence, making him the least popular guy in America. The reasoning behind it is that you never know when they Soviets might capture someone and we’ll need something to trade.
Well, wouldn’t you know it? A few years later, an Air Force Pilot named Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell), is capture by the USSR. Now Donovan and the CIA are sent overseas to negotiate the exchange of Abel and Powers. It’s around this point in the movie that what I feel is Spielberg’s weakness kicks in.
He does a great job with the set up, and it’s fun to follow Donovan as he defends this unconfirmed spy, and urges the court to treat him like a human being. We’re introduced to a man who does the right thing because it’s right, and it’s what’s supposed to define America as a people. But halfway through the picture, it gets a little boring and a little too slow. As Donovan and the CIA try to negotiate the exchange, audience members will most likely be thinking to themselves, “My gosh! How much longer? Can’t we just get this thing over with and go home?” But, maybe that’s what Steven was going for. Maybe it’s just that I’m young and immature and need a certain amount of action and emotion to keep me hooked, something Bridge of Spies was lacking. And I feel like this is one of those on again/off again things with Spielberg films, and it hardly ever works for me.
But it’s also what I found fascinating about Bridge of Spies, as well as Spielberg’s last directing job, Lincoln. When most people think Spielberg, the probably think of sweeping musical scores over gorgeous wide shots as we go along some epic adventure. But these past couple of films from Steven have been put together in a style that’s a little more understated and takes it’s time, bringing in a more realistic drama, as opposed to over-the-top performances or all-age whimsy. He’s done this with films in the past as well, but it seems to be his style now. My point remains that it can try the audience’s patience.
But even if Bridge of Spies feels like it slows to a crawl, it still delivers what I feel is the best part of almost any Spielberg film (almost!), the payoff. If you’re familiar with the tale, you know how it all plays out, but it’s still done in a way that gives you the feel-goods and you know everything was worth sitting through. I’d even say that the ending gave me a few reasons to still be proud of being an American.
Again, Bridge of Spies is a classic tale of good men doing the right thing because it’s right, regardless of how the public might respond. My favorite line came from Tom Hank’s character, Donovan: “It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks. You know what you did.”
I’d say that this one is far from being another Spielberg masterpiece, but I’d gladly recommend it and go to with you to see it when it’s released.