Bridge of Spies (2015)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan
Can’t Bridge the Plot Lines Gap
By Mason Manuel
When I heard the news that Spielberg would be teaming up with Tom Hanks to bring a new historical drama to the screen, I was all but frothing at the mouth in excitement. Saving Private Ryan is in my opinion the greatest war film ever made and the thought of being given a new one, this time focusing on the Cold War as opposed to WWII wad a dream come true. Perhaps because of this, I walked out of the theatre slightly disappointed. While my hype levels were certainly too high to be met, the worst thing is that Bridge of Spies has so much potential and never fully capitalizes on it.
Bridge of Spies is a much more subtle film than most war movies. Fitting for the age that it is placed in, there are no giant battle scenes here. Gunfire rarely flashes up on the screen. The only violence that is ever shown mainly comes through the US and Russia’s government’s harsh treatment of their prisoners. Refreshingly, the United States is not shown as a white knight in a world of evil. Rather, America’s government is playing just as dirty as the other side. For the sake of keeping up appearances the US government appoints James Donovan (Tom Hanks) who is primarily an insurance lawyer, to defend and possibly save the life of a potential Russian spy. But in reality the government expects the case to be rather open and shut. The defense is merely a façade to try and show the rest of the world that the United States is more just than Russia. Knowing this, Hanks is still determined to fight and try to win the freedom of his client.
All of this makes for what would be an excellent courtroom drama of the plot doesn’t end there; rather after the courtroom plot line is adjourned, both governments decide to send Donovan to East Germany to negotiate the transfer of the United States’ captured Russian spy and the Russian’s newly captured American spy pilot. These plot lines are conjoined awkwardly and both seem a little underpar as opposed to what they could have been had just one or the other been the main meat of the film. Surprisingly, the script is written by some very heavy hitters in the form of the Cohen Brothers along with British playwright Matt Charman so I am disappointed that they were not able to pull off a script that felt more coherent. All of the talent is there, just none of the substance.
As far as performances go, this is mostly a Tom Hanks vs. the world take on a picture. Hanks is immediately likeable as he usually is playing a kind family man with no patience for bullsh*t. While there are no real Oscar worthy moments here, he does provide a solid performance and emotes believable reactions to the crazy scenarios that he is thrust into just like you and I would. Fans of The Other Boleyn Girl will recognize Mark Rylance as Rudolf Abel, the Soviet spy that started all of the commotion. Rylance’s character is strangely the most effective in the film. Despite being a spy for an enemy power, never once did he strike me as someone who wished me harm. While he is mostly confined to a cell for most of the film, his chilling calm demeanor comes off as a man who is at peace with his choices no matter his surroundings. Not quite like a father figure, but more of a partner for Hanks to bounce off of, the scenes that have the two men face to face are easily some of the best in the entire movie.
Performances and plot aside, Spielberg is still a terrific director and his talent shows just as it always does (except for Jurassic Park 2, what were you thinking man?). Cold War era U.S. and Berlin are captured in the steely tense ways that plagued the atmosphere back then. Children play in the streets while keeping a tight grip on nuclear preparedness pamphlets. When Donovan is sent to West Berlin, the goings on seem altogether normal but as he travels to the east end over the Berlin Wall urban and social decay rear their ugly heads and make for a frightening scene. At times, there is symbolism that hits a little too heavy however. There is more than one shot where Hanks is illuminated like an angel while the rest of the room and characters remain clouded in darkness just in case we forget who the obvious hero is. But aside from these occasionally out of places frames, the cinematography and directing is fantastic as should be expected and makes for a thrilling view.
Whether or not you are interested in history pieces, this is still a Spielberg film with some very entertaining and emotional moments that make it more than worth the theatre price. It may not meet the hype that comes with such a legendary team up but it is still one of the better releases this year. With excellent direction and strong performances, Bridge of Spies is a film worth..(wait for it)… spying on. Was that too much? Yeah that was probably too much. RDR gives this a 7.6 out of 10.