BRIDGE OF SPIES
(2015, Steven Spielberg)
****+ (out of 5)
> Just in time for the holiday season, comes another absorbing near-classic from the endlessly inventive mind of Steven Spielberg.
. The trailer looked dynamite, and after a somewhat slow start, the film is dynamite! I am stoked Spielberg is so interested in history, because the man has an uncanny ability to mine events from our collective past and turn them into stories for the present generation. Here, he looks at a little-examined event that happened at the height of the cold war, between what was then the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. A Russian spy is captured and publically charged with espionage. Being a shrewd insurance negotiator, our stalwart family man (Tom Hanks, of course), is chosen to defend him in court, instantaneously making him one of the most reviled people in the country. The judge and prosecutors want his client hanged, but good ol’ Tom has the foresight to realize that should any of our guys be captured by the Ruskies, their prisoner might just be worth a whole lot more alive than dead.
. Tom Hanks is great. He’s (yawn!) always great. But frankly, I kept thinking there were many living actors who would have been just as good in the role. It is not among the best of his roles, (I like it when he stretches, as in his wonderful work in CLOUD ATLAS), but he is the usual solid, sturdy, principled, righteous Everyman, striving to do the right thing even when it seems the whole world is against him. His client, (Mark Rylance in the standout performance of the film), describes him as a man who always gets up after being knocked down: “standing man” he calls him.
. The Cold War really heats up when Tom’s fears are realized, and Lt. Francis Gary Powers is shot down over Russia on a reconnaissance mission. The aerial scene where our man Powers has to ditch his plane over enemy territory is intense and breathlessly exciting! When our intrepid hero Tom travels into what was then just forming into East Germany, the tension ratchets up exponentially, and the film gets absolutely riveting. We watch as the Berlin wall is just being built, and citizens are in a frenzy to flee westward past the guards who can hardly hold them back. Great stuff!
. Negotiating undercover for the U.S., Tom gets drawn in between bickering governments. He often appears to be in way over his head, not knowing for sure who is an ally and who is scheming against him. As always with a Spielberg film, the production design is rich and resonant, the soundtrack just about perfect, the well-attenuated script was co-written by Joel and Ethan Cohen, the many secondary characters are uniformly excellent. But as I said, Mark Rylance as the captured spy- is a revelation. His IMDB page describes him as: “widely regarded to be one of the greatest stage actors of his generation”. I believe it! The subtly, reality and nuance in his performance made it well deserving of an Oscar nom. (I see that Spielberg’s next project is a children’s fantasy from a Roald Dahl book, starring… Mark Rylance! Good for us.)
. Actually, I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed this film until hours later, when I found I couldn’t get it out of my mind. It may not be SHINDLER’S LIST or SAVING PRIVATE RYAN or even LINCOLN, but it is a hell of an effort that pays off bigtime if you enjoy taut, flawless suspense from one of the greatest living directors- and for my money, one of the great film directors in cinema history.
> GO TO THE THEATERS to see this while it’s still playing. You gotta see that plane crash scene on a big screen! And the climax on the titular “bridge of spies”? Thrilling!
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© Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.