Thursday, October 29, 2015

'BRIDGE OF SPIES' REVIEW - WOULD IT HELP?

I really enjoyed 'Bridge of Spies,' but it wasn't nearly as exciting as I expected it to be. From the first shot one could definitely tell this is a Steven Spielberg film, which is a good thing. Say what you want about Spielberg-- too much melodrama and over sentimentality-- but he's an exceptional director. You don't remain an A-list director in the pit of hell that is Hollywood for 45 years without being good. And make no mistake Spielberg is the best of the best. Is 'Bridge of Spies' well executed? Absolutely? Is it well acted? Yes! Is it intriguing? Of course. But...there's nothing refreshing or thrilling about this tale. Perhaps that's to be expected, as this is based on a true story and must be bound by realism. If you've seen the trailer then you've seen the film. The thing I most remember about 'Bridge of Spies' is how dashing Tom Hanks looks in a nice suit. I don't think that was supposed to be the major "takeaway" but...

Our fair film starts in the late 1950's at the height of the cold war, with the exposure of a Russian spy named Rudolph Abel, well played by Mark Rylance. Rylance is phenomenal in this role. Spielberg always has an eye for incredible character actors and 'Bridge of Spies' is no exception. Tom Hanks needs no introduction as "everyday man"/insurance lawyer James Donovan. This is a role that Hanks excels at. He does it so well you scarcely remember he's acting. That said, I really do enjoy when Hanks challenges himself like he did with his role in 'Captain Phillips.'
The FBI sweeps up Abel as a Russian spy and puts him on trial. The U.S. Justice Department wants to distinguish itself from their Russian counterparts (USSR at the time) by affording (or appearing to afford) Abel due process. They appoint Donovan as his lawyer. Donovan is no slouch. He takes his role as Abel's attorney seriously. He doesn't breach attorney/client privilege despite pressures from the CIA and he gives Abel a zealous defense.
Despite the guilty verdict and the threat of execution, Abel is a cool customer. Nothing seems to bother him, which surprises Donovan. Abel continually asks throughout the film, "would it help" his situation if he appeared to be frightened? No...it probably wouldn't. Despite the fact that these two men are on opposing sides, Donovan and Abel form a friendship. Donovan not only vigorously defends his client (to the chagrin of his family and law firm), he heavily lobbies the judge to spare Abel from a death sentence, and appeals all the way to the Supreme Court. None of which make Donovan popular.
But Donovan is a pretty sharp guy and he's also in the insurance business. He manages to convince the judge to spare Abel's life just in case the United States needs to trade him for one of their own operatives in the future. How apt Donovan was because in just a few short years Francis Gary Power's (Austin Stowell) spy plane goes down in Russian territory. Stowell is a really good looking guy. I found myself admiring his jaw line instead of thinking about the storyline, but then I remembered my 5th grade history lessons. Powers was captured by the Russians and subsequently released. He later accused infamous assassin Lee Harvey Oswald of potentially revealing radar secrets to the Russians, which enabled them to hit his supposedly invisible spy plane 70,000 feet (21 kilometers) in the air. The downing of Powers' plane is one of the most dramatic scenes in the movie.
I will say that this film was a nice history lesson. I remember being a young girl when the Berlin wall came down in the late 80's. I didn't quite understand the significance of it at the time. Seeing the wall go up in 'Bridge of Spies' was really a fascinating experience. It helped me appreciate just how important it was for the wall to come down. I also didn't know that Francis Gary Powers was once the most hated man in America. It makes sense. He didn't have the "sense" to kill himself instead of being captured. I dare say most people would be hesitant to kill themselves, but that didn't stop people from hating him.
Once Powers is captured, Donovan is dispatched to East Berlin to play a dangerous game of brinkmanship with both the Russians and the East Germans in order to trade Abel for Powers and an imprisoned American student, Frederic Pryors (Will Rogers). Donovan is especially dedicated to the release of the student as the young man is the same age as his own son. Donovan's adventures in East Berlin are intriguing to watch, but again there's nothing particularly compelling about this film.

Spielberg does a great job capturing the look of the late 1950s and 1960s, which has become a Spielberg signature. While watching this film I was transported to a different time and perhaps that's what people like most about it. So if you're looking for a solid film that doesn't reinvent the wheel then this film is for you. Hanks and Spielberg are always a potent mixture and definitely worth the price of admission. However, if you want something more adventurous then my recommendation would be to see 'Sicario' while it's still in theaters.

FOUR OUT OF FIVE STARS.

12 comments:

  1. Spielberg is still a great director. If my books became movies, I would not oppose him directing them.
    It sounds like Spielberg and everyone involved took an unexciting story and made it more interesting. I probably won't make it to the theater to see this, but I do want to watch it.

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    1. It was a good solid feature. I would recommend it to anyone. It just doesn't reinvent the wheel....and that's ok. :)

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  2. Great review, and I like what you said about Spielberg. I might not always go for his films, but there's no denying he's great. I'm not rushing to see this, but I like that it's sort of like a nice history lesson. Sometimes I can appreciate that.

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    1. Thanks! Yes, it was a good film. Lots of history. Very enjoyable, but if you're looking for an intense drama this wouldn't qualify. It's nice to see a straight forward film like this sometimes.

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  3. You liked it a bit more than me. Yeah it was indeed a good history lesson, as you said, but I found it so generic that in effect it was forgettable. There was nothing standing out in this movie for me, which is not to say it was bad, just not great.

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    1. I think that's an accurate description. I did enjoy it. I just didn't think there was anything unique about it. It wasn't great, but it was good. I'm also a big Tom Hanks fan so I think that helped.

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  4. I'm looking forward to Bridge of Spies. Settling in to watch a Tom Hanks movie is like putting on an old comfy leather jacket - you know what to expect. It sounds like this epic hasn't got a great supporting cast which is a pity because i love Russian FBI spy thrillers, yeah all cloak and dagger - lets go get em, lol.

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    1. I think you'll enjoy it. It's a good film and it does have a great cast. That's what part of makes Spielberg so good is that he has an eye for supporting actors.

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  5. I won't catch it at the theater, but I will watch it. I love Tom Hanks and always expect him to be nothing short of amazing. thanks for the review!

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    1. Hi Pat!! Thanks. I think you'll really enjoy it. It would be a great rental as well. Some films should be seen in the theater, but this isn't one of them.

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  6. Spielberg is a masterful director and his skills shine even now. The fact that he can manipulate the audience's emotions shows his skill. I've come to enjoy his period films since he always works with the best production designers. A wonderful film I'll have to check out, but I may take your advice and wait for the rental.

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    1. I agree. He's a fantastic director. No one does period films like he does. I wish the film had been more exciting, but other than that it was pretty good.

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