He’s back! The last Spielberg film I remember thoroughly enjoying was War of the Worlds with Tom Cruise back in 2005. Both Lincoln and War Horse were good films, but they severely lacked the excitement that Spielberg’s movies have become famous for (see Raiders of the Lost Ark and Jurassic Park). Bridge of Spies is a refreshing spy flick that puts a twist on the ways in which we have understood the world of espionage to function. The best part about this aspect of the film is that its based on a true story, showing how our misconceptions have not developed from the real world, but from the glorification of espionage during the Cold War. It may sound like Bridge of Spies is a kind of “political thriller,” but make no mistake, this is a movie about Spies, as the title suggests.
As I said before, this film is based on a true story. Does that mean it gets automatic points? On the contrary, actually. Films that claim to be “based on a true story” are often just that. It sometimes seems that a writer heard a story for the first time and thought to themselves, “oh hey, wouldn’t it have been cool if [insert outrageous plot device that propels the story into a cluster of action and conflict that never actually existed].” Historical movies also have a tendency to be… well, rather boring. You need look no further than Spielberg’s last work, Lincoln, for a good example. Was it directed and acted by artists who are both masters of their craft? Absolutely, but God, was it boring as hell! Bridge of Spies successfully turns a story that has the potential to be incredibly boring and shows it in such a way that makes you feel suspense and empathy when you usually wouldn’t while watching a film. It accomplishes this primarily through its characters.
Tom Hanks plays the main character. I’m not sure that you need more information to justify my score on your own, but feel free to keep reading if you want. James Donovan is one of the most interesting lawyers I have ever watched in a film. He is charismatic, idealistic, and actually pretty funny. Besides Mark Watney (Matt Damon’s character in The Martian), I have never laughed so much at a character who’s life is in immediate danger. [Possible Spoilers Ahead] For those of you that don’t know the history, Donovan is the lawyer that defended the infamous Rudolf Abel, a Soviet citizen convicted of espionage. Abel was guilty, everyone knew it, and this is referenced countless times throughout the film. However, Tom Hanks portrays a man who genuinely cares about other people no matter what. Donovan not only defended Abel with all his might, he actually befriends the guy who is guilty of plotting against his country. [End of Possible Spoilers] The relationship between Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance (as Rudolf Abel) is the element of this film that truly makes it enjoyable to watch. I found myself actually caring for an enemy of the state, something most people would find difficult to do.
There are large portions of this film in which I did not notice the cinematography. While that’s not necessarily a big deal, it makes you think about it during scenes where the cinematography was obviously a priority. The latter part of the movie takes place in Berlin. The scenes during this part of the film are excellently shot. It is dark, gloomy, and chilling to watch. The best part about this scene is that, for the most part, they all actually take place outdoors. The last scene on the actual bridge was very fun to watch because of the way the lighting is implemented.
I’m giving this a lower score for the same reason I deducted points from Star Wars. I simply didn’t notice the music that much during the film. Curious as to how a Thomas Newman film (see Finding Nemo, The Shawshank Redemption, and others) could do this, I listened to some of the score on its own. I was astonished to find that there is actually some very good music in the score. Why did I not notice it on either my first or second viewing of the film? I’m still not completely sure, but perhaps an eventual third viewing will be necessary. I hope that you are able to notice and thoroughly enjoy this good Thomas Newman score upon your first viewing of the film, but my score is going to reflect my personal experience.
X-Factor: 5/10; Expected U2 the band, got a boring plane instead
Seriously though, I don’t actually like U2 (the band). I do, however, LOVE planes. The most under appreciated part of this movie are the spy planes. Spielberg did not spend ample enough time on this part of the story for me. We are shown the planes and the pilots, and then, BOOM; three minutes later one is getting shot down and it’s never explained for the entirety of the film. U-2 planes are amazing feats of technology, and it wasn’t just by some fluke that the Soviets were able to shoot one down. One of the most important factor of the Arms Race was the technology used during it, and the technology used in this story plays a very significant part for both the USA and the USSR. Instead, this part of the story is cut down to give Tom Hanks more screen time. I’m not necessarily complaining, just disappointed is all.
I guess the big question is this: does Bridge of Spies have a chance to compete with The Revenant for Best Picture? Although I found Bridge of Spies more enjoyable to watch, I don’t think it has a chance of beating it. There is simply not enough substance for it to compete with something like a 3 hour long home video of Leonardo DiCaprio going camping. Because the chips are stacked so high in the “art” side of The Revenant, and so evenly distributed in Bridge of Spies, the Academy is going to look more favorably on The Revenant. Even if it were up to me to decide, I would probably still give the award to Iñárritu, but I would pay the presenter a handsome sum to be very sarcastic about the whole ordeal.