BRIDGE OF SPIES (Movie Review)

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***1/2 out of ****
Rated PG-13
for some violence and brief strong language
Released: October 16, 2015
Runtime: 141 minutes
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda, Amy Ryan

(To read my 2nd review of this film – which was a part of my June 2016 “30 Days Of Spielberg” Retrospective – click here.)

Bridge Of Spies is ranked #18 in the Honorable Mention section of my Top Ten List for 2015

It’s refreshing to see a possible Oscar contender not trying so hard to be one. There’s a quiet, patient, and artful old-school formalism to Bridge Of Spies, director Steven Spielberg‘s new Cold War drama. It’s his most understated film, and yet it still drives forward as a riveting character study, political thriller, and thematic rumination on the fine line between upholding or betraying Constitutional ideals.

The film’s first half is the exploration of those ideals. For example: when you know the Commie spy on trial is guilty, is it justice to railroad his conviction? Is it Constitutional? Is it even American? As Tom Hanks‘ lawyer asks, when he makes an appeal to not compromise the virtues of our founding documents, “Will we stand by our cause less resolutely than he stands by his?” The film’s second half then unfolds more like a subtle, calculating, dense-and-tense John le Carré novel (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy).

Bridge Of Spies is a thoughtful, compelling yarn (if, at times, too self-conscious when debating its own ideas) that also entertains with refined and taught direction, handsome visuals (enhanced by meticulous production design from last year’s Oscar-winner Adam Stockhausen, The Grand Budapest Hotel), and wry humor – thanks to a start-to-finish rewrite by the Coen Brothers before filming began. Yes, Bridge Of Spies is probably exactly what you’re expecting it to be, but it’s the best version of that expectation, and it even offers up the gripping backdrop of Berlin’s (and Germany’s) split into East and West – something I can’t remember seeing portrayed in film before.

It’s about honor. And dishonor. About who can be trusted, who can’t, and if risks should be taken on moral principle even when they could sabotage vital objectives. It doesn’t rank with Spielberg’s great films but it sure makes for a great throwback; masterfully crafted and acted. Hanks and Mark Rylance especially stand out, the latter as the cool-headed Soviet agent (who will also, next summer, star in the title role of Spielberg’s adaptation of Roald Dahl‘s The BFG, with a screenplay by E.T writer Melissa Mathison). And yes, there’s even Bono‘s real-life daughter playing Hanks’s pretend one.

I don’t know if Bridge Of Spies will get a lot of traction in this year’s Oscar race – it’s likely too traditional for voters who want something more original and daring – but it definitely should with audiences.

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