Bridge of Spies, directed by Steven Spielberg delivers what is to be expected from the famous director. This is a film that is bustling with what makes Spielberg such a beloved and well known director – however it also means that Bridge of Spies comes burdened with some of the things that Spielberg has become slightly infamous for doing in his films. This is an interesting package of a film, and certainly offers a lot for the audience to walk away with (good and bad).
The story in Bridge of Spies (which is based on true events) sees insurance lawyer James B. Donovan, played by Tom Hanks, be pulled into the world of Government espionage and the backwards thinking of national justice. Tasked with representing a suspected Soviet spy named Rudolf Abel, played by the excellent Mark Rylance, Donovan is met with country wide hate, as he tries to give the man a fair shot in the American justice system. Things only get more complicated for Donovan as he is then tasked with negotiating the return of a US Air Force pilot from Soviet Russia and the handing back of Rudolf Abel. All while he deals with a nasty cold.
The world that comes to mind when I look at Bridge of Spies as a whole is reliable – a film that is directed by Steven Spielberg – headlined by the always reliable Tom Hanks, and is a film that delivered exactly what I was ready to get. Spielberg has been making films for a long time and he knows the ins and outs of making compelling cinema. Bridge of Spies is chalk full of the things that make Spielberg such a well-known and beloved filmmaker. How he constructs a scene, how interactions play out and how he is able to keep things moving along and engaging – I knew going into the film that Spielberg would deliver a technically sound film, and deliver he did.
Continuing that theme of reliability is a strong and always watchable lead performance by Tom Hanks. He, like Spielberg has been making films for a long time and he knows what he’s doing. He brings the charming whit, but also brings that heart filled emotion to the film. I was never once un-enamoured by what he was delivering on the screen – I was as always just enjoying the fact that I was seeing another wonderful performance by the veteran actor. Perhaps the only thing you could say that was disappointing was that it was a very safe, comfortable role for him, but then that may be more to do with the film, and less to do with Hank’s Performance.
Now when performances are being spoken about, one that absolutely must be highlighted is the faultless work by actor Mark Rylance. I am personally not very familiar with Rylance’s previous work but after seeing him in Bridge of Spies I will now be making the effort to become better educated. Even with his character not having much screen time both the actor and his character steal the film – each scene that he appears in he is the best part and all I wanted was more of his quirky charm (though I know that wasn’t feasible in terms of the structure of the story). Anyway I was blown away by just how much of a joy it was to watch both Mark Rylance and his character Rudolf Abel in Bridge of Spies. Though it is subtle and short, he certainly was my favourite part of this film.
What is also a joy to witness in Bridge of Spies is the visual perfection that Spielberg presents. Now what I mean by that is that the look, tone and feel of a 1950/60’s America and East Germany come leaping out at you. Costumes, building interiors, building exteriors, auto mobiles etc – everything just feels right.
So it’s a shame that apart from a few decent performances by some supporting characters, and of course the stand out work by both Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance – there is a noticeable lack of any well developed or memorable supporting cast. Ones in particular that stood out to me as needing more development were the main characters family – we learn nothing of any real substance about them and all of them are nothing more than objects to try and invoke some sort of emotional response from the audience (which it didn’t for me). To give an example of how the film lets this aspect of it down I’ll talk about the part where weirdly the film attempts to set up something between Donovan’s daughter and his associate but then never does anything with that subplot – we get a humorous scene and then we move on, never to see or hear of it again. This is just one example of something that happened more than once. Bridge of Spies feels bland in certain character areas and it’s a shame because the front facing part of the films characters are so good.
Bridge of Spies also has a problem with its story, that problem being that things are sometimes paced badly or structured in such a rushed way. This is a story that spans a long period of time and because of that it means we run into the problem of having to gloss over large sections of time and context. For example, the initial case that James B. Donovan is involved in takes such massive leaps in time, that proceedings never truly feel fleshed out. Things move quickly in the beginning and then in the latter half of the film slow way down. That intensive jolt in pacing hampers the overall experience of the film.
What is also odd about the structural story telling of the film is that it reveals its hand early on. While following Donovan’s story line we are also randomly pulled over to an ulterior plot line involving a secret CIA mission that involves flying a stealth plane over Soviet Russia and taking pictures. It is because of this that we know there will be an inevitable shift in the films story. I now knew where we were being lead in the film and it slightly took away from the story I was being shown at the time.
There is a lot to enjoy in Bridge of Spies. Despite the wonky nature in which the story is delivered it is still compelling. I was still interested to see how things would work out, and through it all were some really great leading characters that I thoroughly enjoyed following.
I’m more than happy to recommend Bridge of Spies. While it isn’t Spielberg’s best, it is still a film that delivers something exciting and intriguing to watch. While some of the child like magic may have disappeared from Steven Spielberg’s filmmaking he still knows how to make a compelling film.
So what did you think of Spielberg’s latest film? Let me know in the comments down below. Feel free to follow me on Twitter,@GavinsTurtle. Last but not least have a great weekend.