Bridge of Spies – Review

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Starring: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Scott Shephard, Austin Stowell, Amy Ryan, Sebastian Koch, Alan Alda
Written for the screen by: Matt Charman and Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
IMDb Score: 7.6
Metacritic Score: 81
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Winner of the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor (Mark Rylance). Nominated for 6 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay.

Rated PG-13 for some violence and brief strong language

Spy films come in two predominant flavors: Action Spy, like James Bond and the Mission: Impossible movies, and incredibly complex and nuanced spy films, like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Very few really act in the middle, but that’s the aim of Spielberg’s latest film, Bridge of Spies.

Which, if I were to be honest, is really a spy movie only in name because it’s about actual spies, but not spy play.

So, yeah, maybe I shouldn’t lump this movie into the “spy” genre after all.

Well, anyway, how was this movie?

Rudolf Abel (Rylance) is a spy for the Soviet Union who is captured by C.I.A. agents. As part of our constitution, he’s required to have representation for his trial, which is given to him in the form of James B. Donovan (Hanks), an insurance lawyer in Brooklyn. Meanwhile, the U.S. government employs Francis Powers (Stowell) to fly a spy-plane across Russian airspace to take pictures of the Soviets.

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Bridge of Spies is a uni-themed, bi-focused film that, with some minor faults, is a movie that is best stewed in silence, stoicism and rigidly delivered pace. Very few movies dare to try to tell a story with a state of quiet and subtlety, but Bridge of Spies‘ best qualities are within that framework of writing and directing.

It’s best to start with the negatives of this film first: the movie has an a solid, if not unspectacular start. Spoilers be bound in the next sentence: the first 30 minutes of the film is the capture and trial of Abel and it goes exactly how you think it will go.

It does set up the character of James Donovan and Rudolf Abel, but that’s all it is: setup. Does the film lead on to the fact that it’s just dressing on a table? Yes, unequivocally so. This leaves a feeling of “Yes, I get it, but get on with the real story”, which isn’t bad: it just feels like a truncated film in the way.

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But once that part of the story ends, the last two thirds are tense, well developed and subtle gold. The movie goes from procedural to a tonal shift of quiet and nervousness.

The film becomes much more conversational: only, not in the way you think. The movie becomes more of what is not said and what is implied then what is said and action set place.

The brilliant feeling that this film portrays is that everything is a negotiation. Movies that deal with negotiations, law, etc. tend to only concentrate on the negotiation of the central perk to show the tensity of how negotiations are made.

Bridge of Spies eschews that by making nearly every scene feel like a negotiation of some sort. Even standard scenes like a husband/wife talking preludes a certain sense of quiet amplification: it’s subtly done, but it is still a phenomenal feel to the film that gets you prepared for on-going acts.

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The movie hints at this in beginning through Mark Rylance’s excellent performance: playing a man of few words and of calculated means has never felt so engaging when the character really only says a few words throughout and is in the film for about 25 minutes.

In fact, the character of Rudolf Abel is essentially the personification of the film in its entirety. Quiet, dedicated and unassuming: Rylance’s performance is a performance that may not show itself for much of the film, but is felt throughout the film.

Tom Hanks plays a great foil to this setting and feeling throughout the film. He doesn’t overtly express his intentions and he plays his performance with as much brevity as needed. A great performance.

Finally, the direction and cinematography are excellent. Spielberg’s use of understated direction is only exemplified by the deep blacks, selective lighting and excellent scene setup by Janusz Kaminski. Every scene has a feel and a purpose, which is hard to do with the use of quiet and restraint in this film.

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It is hard for movies to be wholly engaging while being understated, but Bridge of Spies executes this to a great degree. Sure, the first thirty minutes are pretty standard, but it only sets up an incredible story that is breathlessly told.

It’s a film that makes action out of silence. And it’s excellent for it.

4.5/5 – With an understated eye and a keen sense of tension, Bridge of Spies is an incredible movie that profounds with its silences.

The Wiz Says #55

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