Saturday, October 17, 2015

Movie Review: "Bridge of Spies" (2015)

Movie"Bridge of Spies"
Director: Steven Spielberg
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hours, 22 minutes
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An insurance lawyer named James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) is asked to act as the defense attorney of Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a Russian spy caught by the United States in Brooklyn, to show America gives everyone, even foreign spies, due process. A short time later, an American spy pilot named Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) is shot down over Russia and now the Soviets wants to swap Powers for Abel and Donovan is asked by the CIA to mediate the exchange.

It seems when Steven Spielberg directs movies, he makes two types of films: 1) the big, fun summer blockbusters, or 2) the Oscar-baity historical dramas. "Bridge of Spies" definitely falls into the latter category, but that doesn't mean it's not entertaining. Tom Hanks stars as James B. Donovan, a former criminal attorney turned insurance lawyer, who is asked to defend a Russian spy in court to show that even enemy spies get a fair trial in America. Mark Rylance plays Rudolf Abel, the aforementioned Soviet spy, who spends his days painting in between spying for the Soviets. Donovan is reluctant to take the job as it could lead to him becoming a public pariah. Hesitantly, he agrees to take the case, and upon meeting Abel, they seem to build a mutual understanding with one another, admiring each other's abilities and intentions, be they good or bad.

There are some great elements to this film, the best of which is the acting of Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance. They are both fantastic and play very well off of one another. Where Donovan is a constant worrier, Abel doesn't show one shred of distress or nervousness about his situation, often joking about his predicament along the way. Hanks and Rylance are able to be both foes and friendly to one another in such a dire situation. In addition to their tremendous acting both together and apart, there is also some really excellent dialogue here. The farther the film progresses in its run time, the easier it is to notice how almost all of the drama, the tension, and the execution is contingent upon the dialogue and conversations that take place and how this dialogue is delivered. Of course, as mentioned, "Bridge of Spies" is brilliantly directed by the famous, wonderful Steven Spielberg. With each passing film, it is all too apparent how superbly crafted each of Spielberg's works are as he frames his shots in such a way that it almost makes you forget you're watching a movie at all. Slow zoom-ins on a character, deliberate wide shots setting up an entire large scene within itself, the use of lighting in both a dark and light fashion, Spielberg is unmatched in his endlessly glorious directorial efforts.

With all this being said, sadly, the film isn't perfect. After Abel's initial trial, the film moves into its second act where an American spy pilot named Francis Gary Powers, played by Austin Stowell, is shot down over the Soviet Union and captured after an elaborate and over-the-top crash sequence. Shortly after this, an American student studying economics behind the Iron Curtain named Frederick Pryor, played by Will Rogers, is caught on the wrong side of the Berlin wall while it's being built and is arrested East Germany for espionage. Where Abel was initially set to serve his sentence in jail, now, the tides have changed, and James Donovan is tapped by the CIA to negotiate a prisoner swap: Rudolf Abel for Francis Gary Powers. The CIA isn't concerned about Pryor in the slightest as he doesn't have any top secret information and is basically useless to them, but Donovan won't settle for less than both prisoners. The problem here is the two American prisoners are never as fully developed as Abel was. By far, the best parts of the movie feature Abel and his trial or James Donovan negotiating the prisoner swap in East Berlin, but because we are left without any emotional connection to Pryor and Powers, we are not that concerned for them as individuals, we only know we're supposed to care because they are Americans being held in communist prisons. The exchanges and negotiations between Hanks and his Soviet and East German counterparts are great and we always worry about his character in these times, but we couldn't help but feel like there was an element of thrills missing elsewhere. The whole situation never seemed as dire as it was supposed to be.

Despite the fact that Hanks and Rylance offer up some definite Oscar worthy performances, the movie as a whole, though good, felt like it was missing a little something in the tension department, and for a movie sold almost entirely on mood, this is a must. It's really, really good, and much better than "War Horse," but it is Spielberg's best Oscar-baity drama? Not by a long shot. And speaking of longing, we long for the day Spielberg will bust open the envelope of his self-imposed boxes, producing a product that's something other than what we've previously seem come out of his already stacked and stellar wheelhouses. Still, "Bridge of Spies" is not bad at all and worth a watch for history buffs, Hanks fans, and Spielberg lovers.

My Rating: 8/10
BigJ's Rating: 8/10
IMDB's Rating: ~8.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ~92%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

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