Bridge of Spies

October, 2015, Drama

Bridge of Spies

There are times when the advance publicity of a film by an acclaimed director is so extravagant it works to the movie’s detriment. Such is the case with this latest effort from Steven Spielberg, which traces the circumstances of a largely-forgotten spy exchange between Russia and the U.S. in the waning days of the cold war.  Since it’s a Spielberg film, viewers can expect solid craftsmanship and performances from widely recognized actors, which Bridge certainly delivers - - but despite it’s elaborate examination of a tense incident in this country’s recent past, the movie fails to create the dramatic tension the director obviously intended. Even the presence of Tom Hanks in the leading role fails to elevate this one above the pedestrian. Perhaps the participation of Ethan and Joel Cohen as “script doctors” on the screenplay is a tipoff on what to expect…</p>

Hanks portrays James Donovan, an insurance company litigator whose work at the Nuremberg war tribunal leads the State Department to seek his help in representing accused Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) at his espionage trial and then to engage in cat-and-mouse trade negotiations with Russia for downed CIA spy-plane pilot Francis Powers.

Abel’s arrest and trial dominate the first half of the movie while negotiations for the exchange, (which ultimately also include the return of an American graduate student from East Germany) fills the second half. Unfortunately, both run out of dramatic tension well before the movie’s 2 hour and 20 minute running time provide Bridge’s closing footnotes.

As Donovan, Hanks is never more than a movie star here; there’s no particular depth to his portrayal of a fastidious attorney with genuinely patriotic motives. Hanks plays Donovan as though the actor believes his career deserves a victory lap which, has the unfortunate effect of making his character appear rather smug. Rylance delivers a surprisingly complimentary view of Abel’s quiet dedication to communistic ideals with little exploration of how he came by his commitment to them. The remaining members of the cast are unremarkable save for veteran character actor Michael Gaston’s chillingly gung-ho CIA operative who casually tells Powers it would be better if he dies rather than risk being captured.

Bridge’s cinematography, set design and editing are as technically proficient as audiences expect in a Spielberg movie, but it’s interesting to note how much less impressive they are than those employed to such mesmerizing effect by Ridley Scott in The Martian, which opened just days before this film.

The Verdict? A competent, but uninspiring slice of Cold War history which lacks the sense of passion Spielberg undoubtedly intended.

 

 

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