Monday, October 19, 2015

Movie Review: "Bridge of Spies"

Director Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks have teamed up for the fourth time in their illustrious careers to make their latest film, Bridge of Spies.  Few filmmakers could literally direct in their sleep, and Spielberg probably could do that, the same with Tom Hanks in regards to acting, thankfully both of them give it their all here and make Bridge of Spies a very polished film that, while is neither of their best work, is still well worth your time.

Bridge of Spies tells the story of James B. Donovan (Hanks), a Brooklyn-based insurance lawyer in the late-1950s who took on the case of accused Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel (a likable Mark Rylance).  Donovan was seen as a pariah for doing his best to defend Abel to the letter of the law, but he was then recognized as a hero when U-2 pilot, Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell), was shot down over Soviet Russia, and Donovan was tasked by the CIA to travel to East Berlin to negotiate a swap -- Abel for Powers.

Spielberg works from a script that was written by Matt Charman and the Coen Brothers, and the Coen influence is very evident throughout the script.  There are scenes of high tension one second (all exquisitely milked by Spielberg), and then moments that disarm the tension with humor the very next (a place where Tom Hanks excels at), which is very reminiscent of Coen films like Blood Simple or No Country for Old Men.  This five-way collaboration between Spielberg, Hanks, Charman, and the Coens, finds each of these exceptional filmmakers all pooling their collective talents together to make a film that plays to all of their strengths, and that is the main reason that Bridge of Spies is a cut above most films in current release.  The fact that the movie may have too high expectations upon it, purely because of the prior resumes of all involved, does not detract from the fact that this is still a remarkable film that captures a moment in history where too few films have gone.

The history of film is full of movies about World War II, but when it comes to the Cold War, it's been an area that has been vastly unexplored by Hollywood.  This film accurately recreates the period when Cold War paranoia was at its height in the States, making this a fantastic history lesson as well as fantastic entertainment.  The production is designed with exquisite detail, with Berlin in particular looking as if it leapt off the pages of history books, and it really reinforces how bad things really were during that period.  In just the background characters alone, Spielberg could have probably made three or four other movies, all of which would be equally as fascinating, that is how insane this moment in history was, and it's why it should never be forgotten.

On the technical side of things, Bridge of Spies is another Spielberg, Janusz Kaminski collaboration with stunning cinematography.  The film uses muted colors, with lots of grays, blacks, and navy blues on display in the sets and costumes, while the cinematographer, Kaminski, utilizes a lot of wide angle lenses to mimic the looks of many Hollywood films from the Fifties.  This film simply looks as slick and stylish as anything that Spielberg has ever made, and yet it very affectionately feels like a throwback to the movies of the era in which is this film is set.  The feel of movies like Judgment at Nuremberg is very evident in many moments.  Of course, while the movie is a technical marvel and a well recreated history lesson, what makes Bridge of Spies stick with you after seeing it is the character of Donovan himself.

James B. Donovan was a very fascinating man.  He defended Abel because he believed that if we just sentenced him to death for being a spy without any due process, how does that make us any different from our enemy?  If we see ourselves as Americans as being the better men, then should we not show the world that we are?  This kind of straight arrow character is a rarity in film nowadays, with Hanks really mirroring the likes of Jimmy Stewart and Gregory Peck in his performance, it's just that kind of role and he does it perfectly.  Then there is Rylance as Abel, who plays him in a very quiet, controlled manner that really paints Abel in a poetic light.  He was simply a patriot, who believed in his country and on top of that, was just an unassuming, nice man who actually befriends Donovan in an interesting way.  It really goes to show that the bogeyman is not always the monster we make him out to be, and I think that was one of the main ideas Spielberg was wanting show with this film, and I believe he does so brilliantly.

I give Bridge of Spies a 9 out of 10!

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