Bridge of Spies Review
What is it about Steven Spielberg teaming up with Tom Hanks and how well they craft a 1950-1960's period pieces?
I really do find that remarkable. Maybe not just reducing it to that time period either, as I felt the team did a very good job on "Saving Private Ryan" in 1998. I also have a very deep love for "Catch Me If You Can." The team can seemingly do no wrong, when it comes to period pieces together, and Hanks has a good control of empathy and emotion for each character he plays. When I heard that the team was coming together for a Cold War spy drama, I could barely contain my excitement. Could this team pull off another winner. Much like Martin Scorsese with Robert De Niro, and now Leonardo DiCaprio, when a director can have such a strong bond with a particular performer, the sky is truly the limit.
The year 2015 has already had its fair share of spy movies, ranging from great ("Kingsman") to fun ("Spy") to bitterly disappointing ("Spectre") and I think its worth it to point out that "Bridge of Spies" is very different from any other spy movie released this year. I know I was a little late to this party, but "Bridge of Spies" isn't the usual spy movie. You won't be seeing Tom Hanks use state-of-the-art gadgets in this movie nor will you see him display some wicked kung-fu skills on the evil Soviets. But honestly, I wasn't expecting that at all. This is a much quieter spy movie. This is a much more character driven spy movie, it focuses on the characters and drama of it all instead of any sort of action. In a year rich with all sorts of spy-thrillers, I am eager to learn how this one pairs up with the other films.
Tom Hanks plays James Donovan, an insurance lawyer who was hired to represent Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) a Russian spy captured by the CIA. While the job is entirely thankless and rather demeaning, Donovan is sought for the job so that the world can see American fairness and so the capturing of Abel cannot be used as propaganda. While Donovan is hesitant at first, he accepts the job, while it turns on tension with his family, his friends, his neighborhood and the world in general. During the trail, a U2 spy plane is sent to Russia in order to obtain photos that will be used in the nuclear arms race, and the plane is shot down. This leaves pilot Frances Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) in the custody of the Soviets, and they quietly will give the American pilot back in exchange for Abel, which Donovan will eventually be in charge of.
This is a character ripe for an actor like Tom Hanks, and you can bet he absolutely flies with it. I definitely got an Atticus Finch vibe from the character, which is pretty obvious. But how Donovan fights for Abel to have a short sentence in the case of a bartering tool, I can't help but see Atticus Finch in him. I think Hanks displays every emotion and every character description naturally and masterfully. There are moments where Hanks will make you laugh, make you think and even make you shed a tear. Its a classic Hanks performance and he's really good. But he's even better when he's sharing the screen with Mark Rylance. I don't know much about this guy, but I have heard he's great. Now that I have seen him for myself, I can attest to his talent. And both actors working off of a screenplay written by Joel and Ethan Coen made it all even more exciting. The whole cast is good all around, with exemplary performances by Stowell, Jesse Plemons, Amy Ryan, and Alan Alda.
The look of the film is absolutely perfect as well, and I credit Spielberg for finding the right team in each project for his movie. The scene in which Powers' plane is shot down is willfully harrowing, and the cinematography and effects of the scene are extremely moving, and match Stowell's performance well. There are also great scenes of the Berlin Wall being built or the subtle tension of the capturing of Abel that work extraordinary well. The stages and costumes make this time period believable, it feels lived in, this doesn't feel like community theater at all. Which is a good sign.
For everything that works so well in the movie, I am surprised just how natural and straightforward things play. Especially for a movie with Spielberg's name on it. Whether he is dealing in history tales like this or some mind-bending science fiction, he able to really pull the emotions out of every scene and out of every character. Spielberg's movies are movies I would describe as cookie-cutter, and I thought as a whole Spielberg slightly plaid it safe in this entry. The movie unfolds exactly how you would expect it to, and you can pretty much telegraph the whole thing. I was kind of surprised how much I saw coming and how it ended.
But, Spielberg is too talented a filmmaker to make something pompous, or soulless or anything boring. Especially when he has the aid of Tom Hanks to work with. There is a ton to like about "Bridge of Spies," even if it isn't the spy movie we have been getting repeatedly all year. The look and feel of the movie, and the great performances are all evidence to how well Spielberg has grown as a filmmaker, and that alone is a treasure.
FINAL GRADE: B+