Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks team up for the fourth time, this time for a real life Cold War drama.
This was something of a letdown for me. I was anxious to watch this. You have another Spielberg and Hanks collaboration, everyone loves both of them. I love history and this particular setting of the Cold War with the growing dangers of spies and treason and the threat of nuclear annihilation that was hanging over everyones head – oh yeah there is a lot of fascinating stuff going on here. It all seems tailor-made for a pretty tense drama.
Not so much in Bridge of Spies.
Hanks is insurance lawyer James B. Donovan who is asked to defend accused Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Oscar winner Mark Rylance). He does. Then a U-2 spy plane is shot down over the Soviet Union and pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) is captured. Now Donovan is asked to work out a prisoner exchange between the two countries for the men. Plus, Donovan wants to secure the release of a young exchange student who is being held in East Germany. Can he work out a deal that will secure the release and safety of all three prisoners?
I was surprised just how disappointing Bridge of Spies ended up being. The story is told very matter-of-factly and doesn’t manage to be engaging at all. It all looks very nice, there’s some good performances and some atmosphere, but it all comes across as very dry. I kept waiting for the drama to start up. At a certain point I realized the movie had been playing for an hour and I was shocked that nothing had really happened.
There’s no tension that gets created and the stakes never seem to escalate to a point that made me feel like this prisoner exchange and the turnout of it was something vital that needed to be made to happen.
Hanks should be under this tremendous amount of pressure by all sides and trying to figure out the best way to satisfy the U.S., the Soviets, the East Germans and to save the lives of all three prisoners. He should be getting pulled in all directions with this mounting strain weighing on him. The only thing that seems to be bother Hanks in this is that he has a cold.
The negotiations and maneuvers that Hanks makes in order to broker the deal and save the lives of Powers, Pryor and Abel comes off as frankly rather uninvolving. It’s like the movie merely becomes an account of the events and they didn’t try to present it in any more a compelling way than if you were reading about it in a text book. I felt like I would rather have watched a documentary about it.
I really was hoping for much more out of this. With Spielberg, Hanks and this story. I expected something much more special. In the end I thought it was a very forgettable movie. It’s not going to be one I’ll be revisiting any time soon.
Ironically in an effort to add tension the filmmakers changed history. In real life Gary Powers treated quite well by the Soviets and was certainly never tortured as the film suggests.
Great review. I too was very disappointed. Of late I am finding Speilberg films to be a tad annoying. The director now seems to go through the motions without even trying something new. It is like painting with colours. Sentimental music – check. Sentimental script – check. Sentimental ending – check. Cliché villians – double check (actually that is one of the fundamental problems with this). Something is said in hour one and then we see that something played out in hour two – check. Film sets that look like film sets – check. Co-incidences – check.
What makes Bridge of Spies semi enjoyable is Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance. Their acting chops bounce off each other pretty well. It begins to fall apart when the Gary Powers incident roles up and then the cliché's crop up in quick succession. America – good. Russians – bad. There was little in the way of nuance and this was supplemented with action when none was needed. Speilberg had to throw in a scene on a train when Tom Hanks real life character James Donovan saw East Berliners get shot. Why ?. What function did that scene serve ?. The fact that the Wall went up was reason enough to know East – West relations had deteriorated.
You captured the very essence of the biggest problem with the film. There is no tension. Period. Instead of a fighting court room drama, we get a quick resolution of guilt with no sense of weight. Instead of a cathartic reaction to injustice, we get mild annoyance that a prisoner turned up late. Almost all tension was sucked out of this film, leaving a sense "meh"