James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.
Cole Clay // Film Critic
By this point we all know what we are going to get with Steven Spielberg– shadowy lighting, amber auras, and a neutral but satisfying conclusion. It’s kind of the same film aesthetic, just in a different setting from film to film. What you see is what you get, and he’s really damn good at what he does.
With BRIDGE OF SPIES, Spielberg is working again with Tom Hanks, who is also very good and offers little surprises with his performances these days, but that’s totally fine because he’s got the charisma that makes him one of the most trust-worthy faces on the planet. This collaboration is like the old yet reliable car that you would take on a road-trip to sight see some of America’s most iconic destinations.
In 1957, the Cold War is in full effect and the paranoia between America and The Soviet Union is hitting a fever pitch of tension. The bombs could fly at any moment (ask your grandparents about the era; it’s harrowing), and the CIA has captured a probable spy named Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance), who is one cool customer. In order to keep up appearances and give this prisoner due process, the USA commissions insurance lawyer Jim Donovan (Hanks) to represent the alleged spy.
Spielberg is an expert at communicating his message with the audience in a visual sense; it also doesn’t hurt that he has the Coen brothers penning the script, which is of course stellar. That being said, this is the kind of movie your dad will love and most likely be his favorite of the year. If you know Spielberg, you know that he has been telling the story of America through his films. Much like 2012’s mega Oscar hit LINCOLN, he uses this story of Abel, the foreign outcast to mirror the issues we are having today in our country with the witch hunts against Muslims. With the former, he dissected civil rights issues in a way that could have been nothing more than a history lesson, but Spielberg once again knows how to get the audience invested.
As the trial approaches and we get to know Donovan and Abel, the logistics of the case unfold. Through side characters, like an assuming Judge (Peter McRobbie) and CIA agent Hoffman (a very good Scott Shepard) we realize the implications this will have on Donovan and his family. The fate of Abel doesn’t consume the story at 2 hours and 15 minutes, there is another plot that reveals itself in a captured pilot (Austin Stowell) as Donavon navigates Eastern Germany in order to make a swap. Wait, there’s more, but at this point I’d just go see the movie.
For all of Spielberg’s assets, he has his faults. It almost feels criminal calling out one of the most iconic filmmakers to ever walk the planet, but alas, he we are. He has the tendency to be too on the nose with his visual cues that have made him great in the past. It’s the Cold War so naturally Abel and Donovan develop head colds and the visual department even phoned in some computer generated cold breaths while in Europe to hammer the point home.
Even though BRIDGE OF SPIES lacks in re-watchability, the movie is perfectly adequate for its intentions. The digestible story is easy to follow and puts all the complicated x’s and o’s into laymen’s terms for dopes like me to understand. No way would I be able to process a film like TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY. This will undoubtedly be given a push for Oscar season and rightfully so– it’s right up the Academy’s alley. However, this a by-the-numbers depiction of the Cold War that shows what makes us American with every shade of grey that could’ve potentially ignited the world into WW3. As discussed earlier we all have certain expectations with we see Spielberg and Hanks on the marquee, but in this case bringing those expectations with you into the theater is just fine.
BRIDGE OF SPIES opens nationwide on Friday (10/16).