Steven Spielberg is one of the world’s most decorated film directors. With films like Jaws, E.T, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Jurassic Park and Lincoln in his impressive resume, any Spielberg film is a must on a film-buff’s weekend plans. Bridge of Spies, Spielberg’s latest takes one of the most famous stories of the Cold War and reimagines it in a way only Spielberg can. Does it work? Read on to find out.
James Donovan (Tom Hanks) is an insurance lawyer chosen to represent an alleged Soviet Spy caught in Brooklyn, New York. On the other side of the globe, Francis Gary Powers, one of the pilots of the infamous U-2 Reconnaissance planes is caught in an act of obvious espionage. Bridge of Spies is the story of how Donovan negotiates the release of one spy, for another in the height of the Cold War, the action flitting from New York to Germany (Both West and East) to the U.S.SR.
WOOS: As an admirer of Spielberg’s filmography, I am always looking out for those distinct touches and flair he brings to his films. From the largely wordless opening scene of the sights and sounds of New York to the wide lenses to the shoulder shots, they’re all there. And they’re very effective. The film, written by the Coen brothers who were last part of the soulful Inside Llewyn Davis is well-edited with some pretty strong characters. As the Coens go, it is expectantly dry and funny in the most unusual of places, like the scene where Donovan is mugged/robbed by a gang in East Germany or where he meets some people hoping against hope to meet a lawyer he doesn’t believe exists.
The acting is top-notch (Who doubted otherwise). The secondary cast is impressive, from the British actor who portrays the Russian Spy Abel (A shout-out for the opening sequence here), to Amy Ryan (Who, for the life of me, I can’t remember where I last saw). The star however is Tom Hanks, who commands the screen whenever he’s on it. Whether he’s trading his characteristic dry wit, or even when he’s wiping the snot off his nose, Hanks gives us a character worth cheering for. Sure, it’s not a performance as good as Cast Away, or the more recent Captain Philips but his performance gives that much-needed consistency in the dangerous world of this film.
MEHS: As technically sound as Bridge of Spies is, I found the film to be underwhelming. And, this I think has more to do with the writing than with anything else. The story behind the film is now folklore in Cold War history, and has therefore enough juice to provide bite and drama to the cinema-goer. Which is why it is disappointing that Bridge of Spies never quite builds the tension on screen and challenges us to expect the worst for its characters. It is all too neat, and for a film about the Cold War, it never feels as if much is at stake. Sure, the film builds up in the last fifteen minutes or so (Assisted by a soaring Thomas Newman score) but, it never has you at the edge of your seat like the terrific Argo, or even the lesser The Imitation Game.
Another big issue I had was with the lead himself, James Donovan. I for one, refuse to believe that the man, as good as he was, was without any missteps on his mission. As the film and actor portrays him, the guy is a one-dimensional boy scout with a heart of gold. There are no greys to his character, which is why this vanilla superhero more often than not, reeks of American Star-Spangled propaganda.
VERDICT: There is a lot to admire in Spielberg’s latest, Bridge of Spies. But equally, there is a lot in here that underwhelms, and ultimately disappoints. Bridge of Spies takes a classic tale of Cold War espionage and turns it into a fluffy, popcorn-flick that tastes like saccharine. It is respectful, measured and understated, and is expectantly well-made but, it has no fire in its belly. Which is a shame because, after Spielberg’s Lincoln (One of my personal Spielberg favourites), I was hoping this would top it. And, I’m sure others were too.
I give it a 2.5/5.