First, I love Steven Spielberg. I love Tom Hanks. I love Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg when they are together, but for some reason what I didn’t like about Bridge of Spies is it’s runtime.
For the first hour, the film attempts to establish the nation’s fear of Russia and the reality of spies placed within our borders. The landscape of America in the 1950s during a Cold War is practically a constant witch hunt with the winning side being either the loudest or first to accuse another. Enter Jim Donovan, an insurance lawyer who is tasked with going through the mundane task of defending an accused Russian spy on an American court. It’s merely a formality and knowing this is an all but certain loss, Donovan convinces the court to preserve the life of Rudolph Abel, the accused. Playing Abel is Mark Rylance, who’s subtle touch of a portraying a man who stands by his country despite the threat of death is the unsung hero of this movie and should be considered for a Best Supporting Actor. He does a phenomenal job and has the best no-acting acting face I have ever seen. But the lag in pacing still holds down the front half of this film.
It’s not until Donovan is asked to yet again serve his country, this time negotiating the release of a captured fighter pilot along with an imprisoned American student. Once this begins, the movie begins to take off. It’s second half is tighter and filled with more twists and turns. The drama and overall stakes are raised by Donovan discussing the trade while staying in Germany. Mind you, the second World War is still fresh in people’s minds and hearts not to mention the remnants of buildings after bombings are haunting reminders of what took place. All of this serves as the backdrop as he plays witness to the inception of the Berlin Wall. It’s all very stark while our main protagonist is still trying to represent the type of humanity that can be achieved in post war. The film culminates in tense negotiations for the exchange of Abel back to Russia for the American student and fighter pilot. (All of this being done without the direct involvement of the respective governments so as to have deniability.) This makes for an excellent finale with a payoff leaving you filled with hope for who we could be as a nation, but not without understanding at what cost it came for the parties involved. What leaves me most intrigued is the amount of times things like this has happened throughout our nation’s history without the public’s knowledge. I’m sure this has happened more times than our country cares to admit, but while knowing that this particular story was mined from portions of real negotiations it still does not diminish its significance during that era.
Overall, Bridge of Spies was a solid movie, but not a great one. To be great, it would have to cut at least 20 minutes of its runtime. I will say that the opening scene made my list for one of the best scenes in a film this year. It’s an intense cat and mouse chase between the CIA and Abel with no dialogue lasting for about five minutes. It’s an amazing piece of cinema that made me sit back in my chair and think, Spielberg’s still got it! I would recommend you either see this film at a matinee price or wait until it comes in FX on a Saturday afternoon. I enjoyed moments and as always Tom Hanks acting is one of our national treasures.
BRIDGE OF SPIES – 3 GARYS