2016.63: Bridge of Spies (Amazon VOD)
Bridge of Spies is pretty spectacular, the best Spielberg film I have seen in quite awhile. Even someone familiar with the true-life story the film is based on will find the film enthralling. It’s chiefly thanks to a first-rate script (co-written by the Coen brothers no less, with Matt Charman) but what most impressed me was the craftsmanship evident onscreen. This is a surprisingly beautiful film. There is something remarkable in how the film recreates the period in which it is set- it looks absolutely ravishing, from the art direction to the cinematography to the flawless effects work. Best of all, Spielberg operates under quiet restraint- he isn’t too showy, emotions aren’t forced, camera moves aren’t so indulgent- stuff that hampered Lincoln for instance. A part of this is that it is also a rare Spielberg film -just the third, I think- that doesn’t feature a John Williams score (Williams being busy with a certain Star Wars gig). The Thomas Newman score is nothing extraordinary but it does give the film a different ‘feel’ to a normal Spielberg picture and is understated enough to not draw attention (indeed I might be wrong but I was only first aware of the music some thirty minutes in).
The two leads are great. Tom Hanks of course is no surprise playing unlikely Superpower go-between James Donovan.He’s eased into a career of playing these noble, thoughtful and morally incorruptible characters for years and makes it look deceptively easy. It’s occurred to me that he would make a fantastic Bond villain- you know, casting him quite against type, set him up as a figure who you wouldn’t dream of being the orchestrator of global doom and then -Bam- I’m pleased to meet you Mr Bond. It gives me chills just thinking about a typically charming Hanks going all evil and chewing up the Bond scenery- maybe one day.
Anybody familiar with Mark Rylance (particularly in Wolf Hall) will perhaps be not at all surprised by how good he is as Russian spy Rudolf Abel, a soft-spoken, almost terrifyingly calm man who at the time the film is set becomes the most hated man in America (another possible Bond villain someday?). Abel is always a mystery and we don’t really get to know him but somehow an unlikely friendship and bond quickly forms between Donovan and Abel and it’s never short of convincing. Its in the performances of the leads and the finely tuned script with some lovely dialogue and a sense of disarming humour (the influence of the Coen brothers, no doubt) even in the face of the Cold War nightmare threatening to unravel before us.
My only slight reservation is how the film displays the passing of time. From what I have read afterwards, Abel was arrested in 1957, Powers shot down in 1960, and the exchange happened in 1962, and yet I can’t really say that span of time was evident in the film. Maybe I was so swept away by the gorgeous photography etc that it passed me by- I certainly don’t recall any onscreen text ticking off the years, but maybe I was enjoying myself too much.
It seems an odd omission for a film that at least feels quite authentic and realistic, in that events seem to play out in rapid succession when in reality half a decade passes by (Donovans children, for instance, don’t seem to age from the start of the film to its end). In anycase, I don’t think anyone comes to a Spielberg film for cast-iron accuracy and a sense of impartial ‘truth.’ As it is, Bridge of Spies is a great film regardless of accuracy; a thrilling tale splendidly told.