Bridge of Spies Movie Review
Steven Spielberg. Tom Hanks. The Cold War. That combination is an easy sell, and even though Bridge of Spies is far from being a great movie, it is a serviceably entertaining one that is guaranteed to appeal to the masses.
Hanks delivers a stellar performance as insurance lawyer James B. Donovan, who is selected to defend a captured Soviet spy (Mark Rylance). Despite facing harassment and judgement from other Americans, Donovan defends his client to the best of his ability--but it isn’t until the Russians capture a spy plane pilot that is he is presented with a much greater task: to negotiate the exchange of prisoners with the Soviet Union. In East Berlin. Without an official envoy.
Bridge of Spies benefits and suffers from all things Spielberg. Spielberg brings East Berlin to life with the expected detail and the movie looks great at every step of the way. The director guides his characters on both a literal and moral journey, and he enables his actors to flourish--again, Tom Hanks is terrific, and Rylance is also good as the odd spy--throughout. But it’s arguably been over 10 years since Spielberg made his last great live-action film (Lincoln lovers, sorry), and Bridge of Spies is most definitely not a true return to form. Entertaining, yes, but the movie is tonally inconsistent, too long and at times dripping with the schmaltz that Spielberg used to handle so well but that has now become more of a cliche characteristic for the acclaimed director than anything else.
Working from an adequate screenplay by Matt Charman, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, Bridge of Spies handles its material fairly lightly, relatively speaking. The movie often boasts a playful tone, especially in scenes in which Hanks and Rylance exchange words, and this tone works well enough. But the movie operates best when there are greater stakes and the tone reflects it, and Spielberg simply doesn’t do a good enough job to infuse the movie with the tension and intensity you’d expect from a story of this nature. The first scene where Donovan arrives at the Russian embassy, encounters the fake family and then dives into negotiations with his Soviet counterpart is a prime example of Spielberg’s ability to shift from humor to seriousness on a dime. But there’s not enough of these kinds of scenes--the rest of the negotiations, which occur with various other poorly developed individuals, don’t sizzle. There are bursts of outlandish humor that don’t seem to fit at all, either, and that at times diffuse the story’s tension altogether.
At 142 minutes, Bridge of Spies feels 20 minutes too long; while I didn’t know for sure how the story would end, I assumed as much. Sadly, as the climax approaches, there is less a sense of will-it-go-through-or-won’t-it suspense (which makes me think of the far superior Argo) and more “get on with it already.” While never boring, it comes tediously close in a few parts.
Bridge of Spies is a perfectly acceptable drama-thriller from Spielberg, a crowd-pleaser you’ll likely enjoy and that will leave you content with the $12 you spent to see it. But any talk of this movie being among the best films of the year is pure hyperbole.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.