Bridge Of Spies (2015) Review: I Spy A Damn Good Movie
How long should a movie career last? The best filmmakers typically, after a long enough run in hollywood, build a quality body of work that people revere. The trouble is, after too long, filmmakers tend to lose their resolve. Suddenly the directors that people loved will become the butt of the joke. Rather than revered they get ridiculed as the old fogey who can’t seem to admit that they’re out of touch. Audiences determine this, but then again, sometimes the audience isn’t so right. This year alone we’ve seen the renaissance of visionaries like Robert Zemeckis and Ridley Scott. Both had been regarded as stuck in the shadow of their own success, and yet, they proved that they still had something to say at the movies.
Spielberg himself furthers that trend with ‘Bridge of Spies’. Based on a true story, the movie takes place in the late 50s, early 60s, and follows the story of Jim Donovan, played by Tom Hanks. Donovan is an insurance lawyer and a pretty good one too. So good in fact, that when the US government captures a Soviet spy on their soil, Donovan is tasked with providing him with a defence to show he’s had due process. Suddenly, he’s thrust into a world of international nuclear relations as he becomes the only man in America with the misfortune of defending a cold war combatant. What follows is a legal drama mixed with a spy thriller that charms, excites and just plain entertains.
The premise itself is interesting, but it’s even more so with this particular main character. Jim Donovan essentially takes on the worst job for an attorney with an unwinnable case. In fact, the whole point is to lose but that’s not a very fun movie. Instead, Jim is a man who stands for what he believes in, makes speeches about the American constitution and fights anyone who tells him to stand down (he’s essentially playing Denzel in ‘Philadelphia’). He stubbornly takes the hard way and is willing to make his own life miserable to do the right thing by his client, so of course they got Tom Hanks to play the part. Tom Hanks is like that in real life.
The spy in question is Rudolph Abel, played by Mark Rylance. The entire film is impeccably acted on all fronts, but the heart of it comes from the interaction of Abel and Donovan. As the two get to know one another, you get a sense of why Donovan fights so hard for this man’s well being, which is essential for this movie to work. You have to truly understand why Donovan would still keep his resolve after threats to his job, his family and even his life unfold. Both Hanks and Rylance do wonders with these scenes, and really drive the entire film.
Something to note about this movie, it’s very quiet. Although Spielberg is known for score heavy pictures, there’s not a single note played until 20 minutes into the film. A lot of that is due to the fact that the bulk of this film is a series of conversations. So thank God that those conversations aren’t dull and wooden. The dialogue in this is actually quite remarkable.
Every line of dialogue fits the character that speaks it, and it has a naturalistic style to it. People talk over one another and repeat things for special emphasis. It’s also wickedly funny at times. It’s no surprise that it’s good seeing as this is not just a Spielberg picture, but it’s also a Coen brothers script, which is sort of like a cinematic Reese’s if you ask me.
With a movie that’s so dependent on dialogue, it’s a wonder that this movie never feels as though it drags. It’s even more of a wonder when you realise it’s 141 minutes long. The dialogue doesn’t move at a breakneck speed like a Sorkin script, it takes its time to tell the story. There are actually a few moments in here which are just brilliant transitions.
One in particular is after the first court hearing of Abel when everyone is told to rise as the judge enters the courtroom. Right as “all rise” is said, the camera cuts to a classroom where children are saying the national pledge, perfectly contextualising the case in its importance to the protection American ideology. Moments like that are everywhere in this film and keep the viewers attention, where a lesser filmmaker would’ve had you checking your watch.
Simply put, ‘Bridge of Spies’ is just really well put together. It’s a movie that has a truly interesting central plot, dialogue that engages, actors that know how to use it, a strong sense of character and moments to be remembered. It’s a classic story of a man who get greatness thrust upon him and must persevere in the face of increasingly overwhelming odds. Such odds were unknown to me prior to watching and of course fascinated me with how complex things actually got. To say that I had a good time watching ‘Bridge of Spies’ is an understatement. The movie that put Tom Hanks at the centre of US/Soviet relations already had my interest, but it by far exceeded my expectations.
Rating: Big Screen Watch