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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Friday, November 27, 2015

Movie Review - Bridge of Spies

Bridge of Spies (2015)
Starring Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, Austin Stowell, Will Rogers, and Jesse Plemons 
Directed by Steven Spielberg

Bridge of Spies is two movies for the price of one -- unfortunately, only one of those movies is really compelling.  Despite decent direction from Steven Spielberg (that isn't without its faults) and a nice performance from Tom Hanks, Bridge of Spies works for its first half, but falters a bit during its second half with a story that becomes a bit repetitive and proves to be not quite as intriguing as it thinks it is.

Based on a true story, Hanks is James B. Donovan, an insurance lawyer, who is asked by the US government to defend Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a man accused of being a KGB spy.  Despite the disapproval of Donovan's own firm, judges, and the public, Donovan believes that he owes Abel the best defense possible.  In the film's successful first half, we see the intricacies of law as Donovan tries to maneuver his way around all the barriers to a fair trial set up against him.  The film falters a bit as it proceeds, however, when Donovan is then chosen by the government to head to a newly formed and very volatile East Germany in order to negotiate with both the Germans and the Russians to formulate a trade to bring back both a young US Air Force pilot (Austin Stowell) being held as a spy whose plane crashed in the USSR and a young US graduate student (Will Rogers) captured by the Germans who fear the kid was attempting to harm their communist agenda.  While these aspects seem compelling in print, the film doesn't do the best job at integrating the two "Prisoner of War" stories into the overall plot and, quite frankly, the negotiations simply aren't as interesting to watch as Donovan's struggles with the US judicial system.  While I recognize the appeal of including both halves of the story -- and they do connect with one another in an absolutely logical way -- the halves just aren't equal to one another in terms of quality of plot and the fact that the better half is first ends the movie on more of a down note.

Granted, that isn't to say that the second half is unwatchable, but it does come as a disappointment because the first half is surprisingly compelling thanks in large part to Tom Hanks' performance as Donovan.  Hanks has had a bit of a career renaissance as of late and it's good to see him back in top form.  While I don't think the role of Donovan was a particularly tricky one to play, it proves that Hanks is still the go-to guy to play the "everyman" -- we're fully taken in by his struggles and are right there with him as he fights to do his job to the best of his ability and protect his family from the slings and arrows being thrown his way by the American public who aren't fans of his defending a purported spy.  Mark Rylance is also good as spy Rudolf Abel, but the Oscar buzz surrounding him is a bit confounding to me.  While he plays Abel as a completely different spy than we're used to seeing -- which was unique and admittedly refreshing -- I never felt as though his character had much of an arc to go through and because of this there wasn't a lot that he could really dig his teeth into story wise.

Bridge of Spies is certainly solid, but it's really just a mid-level Spielberg flick.  The director nicely balances a surprisingly light-hearted tone throughout the piece (likely thanks in part to a script co-written by the Coen Brothers), but he too often tosses in some obvious symbolic references that are eye-rolling as opposed to powerful -- as an example, as some Germans attempt to cross the Berlin Wall, they are shot; thirty minutes later in the film, Spielberg shows American kids freely climbing over a fence between houses in New York.  Cue the groan-inducing eye roll or the obviousness of that visual allegory.  Still, overall the film works, is worth seeing, and depicts an interesting true story from our past.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

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