Bridge of Spies
Starring Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, Austin Stowell
With all the inventive, daredevil, envelope pushing cinema we have seen in the last few years, Steven Spielberg delivers a stale cold war thriller that is about as edgy and thrilling as a plastic knife. “Bridge of Spies” is Hanks and Spielberg’s fourth collaboration, but the first time the “Saving Private Ryan” director has worked with screenwriters Joel & Ethan Coen (“No Country For Old Men”). Suffering from excruciating pacing issues, its worst crime is laying out the films entire premise even before the midway mark. It isn’t that New York insurance lawyer turned American negotiator isn’t worthy of a heroic feature film, he is; but Spielberg and Hanks play this on the nose and by the numbers until you would find more excitement reading about him than watching.
Originally his firm put him in charge of defending accused Soviet Spy Rudolf Abel (Rylance) because due process is the law, but James Donovan (Hanks) a man of integrity, does his job a little too well. The trial is rushed and ultimately unfair resulting in Abel’s conviction and Donovan’s disgrace. He at least convinces the hardnose judge to spare Abel’s life for precautionary measures. You never know, an American spy might be captured on Soviet soil, giving the two countries at war something to trade. Donovan of course is right, and when a spy plane does go down, he is tapped to be the private citizen who secretly negotiates the purposed exchange during one of the most dangerous periods in history.
Hanks doesn’t bring even a drop of sweat to this performance that literally could have been given to any actor.
The film opens with close ups of our unflattering spy guy and some really annoying facial mannerisms as we get a glimpse into the secretive work he is doing for the Soviets. When we finally meet Donovan, he is introduced lawyering the opposing side out of their own opinion, of course this dialogue will be implemented later in the story. Every important moment is tapped on the viewer’s nose to make sure we receive the message in the simplest of forms. Donovan’s family and the entire city of New York question his integrity as he defends the accused spy, but they don’t see the moments we see between Donovan and Abel. In “The Contender” (2000), Joan Allen’s character Laine Hanson said, “Principles only mean something when you stick to them when it’s inconvenient,” never has that been more appropriate than the situation presented here.
Throughout the films first half we see Austin Stowell’s character prepare for a secret spy mission over Russia. The moment Donovan visits the crusty Judge Byers (Dakin Matthews) asking to spare his client the death penalty, he basically lays out the plans for the rest of the film removing any suspense, because let’s face it, this is a Spielberg film where the audiences is expected to leave smiling. Odds are the Coen screenplay was written as a bit of a dark comedy, and there are a few moments that shine through, despite Spielberg’s decision to play this straightforward. Hanks doesn’t bring even a drop of sweat to this performance that literally could have been given to any actor, it’s a walk in the park for the two time Oscar winner. Spielberg has become like a version of MySpace existing in a Facebook world.
Not Spielberg or Hanks finest moment.