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USD $1 ₱ 58.59 0.0000 June 14, 2024
June 14, 2024
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‘Bridge of Spies’ is Unsurprisingly Great

The movie makes serious statements about what it is that defines America, and is also a tribute to a truly great man who would end up freeing thousands of people.

Bridge of Spies is co-written by the Coen brothers, stars Tom Hanks, shot by Janusz Kaminski, and is directed by Steven Spielberg. That really ought to be enough to get any film buff into the cinema. That the film is good should come as no surprise. This is a simple case of extremely talented people working together to produce something great. Bridge of Spies is a wry little tale of how the American spirit won through the absurdities of the Cold War.

It is 1957. Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) has been captured, and is charged with espionage. Insurance lawyer James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) is offered the unenviable position of providing a competent defense for the captured spy. Donovan takes the case, and does his job to the fullest of his ability, in spite of an uncooperative court and a public that thinks Abel doesn't deserve a defense. When an American pilot is captured by the Soviets, Donovan is tapped to negotiate a prisoner exchange. He heads into East Berlin with no real information, hoping to find a happy resolution in a time of extreme paranoia.

There is a wryness to this film that separates it from every other picture that tackles such weighty issues. The movie makes serious statements about what it is that defines America, and is also a tribute to a truly great man who would end up freeing thousands of people. But it rarely allows itself to wallow in seriousness. It instead revels in the absurdities of the Cold War, which manifest in the countless obfuscations required in the spy game. The film finds its heart and humor in Donovan seeing through the game, and speaking plainly in human terms as everyone around him tries to skirt around the simplest truths.

It is easy to take Steven Spielberg’s gifts as a director for granted. His name is already synonymous with a certain quality of film; so much so that a lot of what he does is rendered invisible. Here, along with director of photography Janusz Kaminksi, he builds a world of bathed in shadow, with light just seeping in at the edges. He puts together beautiful match cuts that help sketch out the psyche of the nation as a whole. And he creates tension is wordless sequences that range from the low-key (an early sequence of agents tailing Abel) to the bombastic (a mid-air scramble to set off a plane’s self-destruct). From start to finish, this film exhibits a mastery of film grammar that is basically unmatched.

There is a marked restraint to these proceedings. There are brief moments of excess that underline the themes of the film, but for the most part, it keeps things tight. The film chooses not to overwhelm with music, and trusts its actors to get the point across. This is a pretty wise decision, considering who is involved. Tom Hanks is the epitome of warmth as James B. Donovan, his easy, human charm shining through the veneer of old school America. And then there is Mark Rylance, who is known mostly as a stage actor. There is an argument to be made about how Rylance is actually the best actor working today. This film provides plenty of evidence to make that case.

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Bridge of Spies might be the best Spielberg film since Catch Me If You Can. This is not to say that Spielberg hasn’t had good films in the 13 years since that movie. It is only a testament to just how good this particular movie is. The film is eloquent in a way that his last few prestige pictures haven’t been. It is suffused with wit, and far less taken with the lure of bombast. It is a story mainly composed of people talking, immaculately shot and superbly directed. It is tense, moving, and funny, almost always at once. It is what one should expect from a collaboration of this magnitude.

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Bridge of Spies
Drama, History, Thriller
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3.8/5
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