Movie Review: Bridge of Spies
Bridge of Spies
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, and Joel Coen
Starring Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance
Review written by John Slavnik
Why do films “inspired by true events” have to always end with an information dump via white text over the epilogue? This white text has enraged me in everything from last year’s Imitation Game and American Sniper to this week’s Bridge of Spies. In the case of the Imitation Game the little white text served to tell us information that would’ve been far more effective had it been shown to us. Bridge of Spies’ particular sin in this very specific field is ruining a perfectly bittersweet ending (at least as bittersweet as a Steven Spielberg movie can be). Why can’t we just leave what the film shows us be and have audiences go and do the research themselves. The film is already taking liberties on the true story simply through existing, I don’t see why we need to see what happens after the movie IN the movie theater.
I apologize for this rant but this particular moment really soured me because the rest of this Spielberg directed and Coen Brothers co-written film is filled with moments of visual bravado. Spielberg has endured a rather drastic metamorphosis in the last 20 years. Going from the master of the blockbuster with tour de forces like Raiders of the Lost Arc, Jaws and Jurassic Park to the must see filmmaker of history teachers in all American high schools with historical dramas like Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan and Lincoln. While many miss the classic Spielbergian blockbuster, he has been able to remain successful through pouring all the talents that make his blockbusters sparkle into his historical dramas. In Bridge of Spies there is the opening “chase” that has almost no dialogue and much storytelling done just through character actions and visual cues. The sequences on the subway trains that give information entirely through the visual reactions of people inside the train and events unfolding outside them. There is lots of visual shorthand provided by the master of feel-good cinema himself. These moments help aid the well rounded performances of Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance who play insurance lawyer James Donovan and Soviet Spy Rudolf Abel respectively. Tom Hanks is excellent as the idealistic lawyer who transcends the xenophobia of the 1950’s and Rylance does good work as the wise and cool Soviet spy.
This use of visual storytelling is mostly what keep my interest through this rather predicable historical drama. The film is filled with all the Cold War paraphernalia that you would expect: Soviets, spies, distrust, paranoia, nuclear test footage, it runs the whole gambit up, down and side to side. That’s not to say the script is without commendable attributes; the dialogue is mercifully utilitarian and sparse, our main character is proactive and has an identifiable arc The film rather successfully ferments themes of what it means to serve your country and fellow man (This is not a particularly feminist movie) throughout.
I know exactly what this movie’s fate will be: the overworked projectors of all high school history classrooms where Cold War lessons must be taught. It may be predicable (I began this review before I even saw the movie) but it is well executed and well acted (its’ Tom Hanks, what did you expect?). I would recommend it, if only to see an old master like Spielberg work his magic across the silver screen. I also recommend running out of the theater the moment those devilish white words begin appearing on the screen.