I looove this one!
Bridge of Spies (2015)
The Plot: (inspired by true events) The story of American lawyer Jim Donovan who is assigned to defend a suspected Russian spy and then becomes instrumental in engineering a tense prisoner exchange when an American soldier is captured by Russia and an American student is captured by Germany, and the only bargaining chip Donovan has is an alleged spy that both sides want.
Seen It Before?: Yep, saw this when it first came out and loved it.
Writing (9): The Cohen Brothers are responsible for a lot of the script’s tightness and rich characterization. It’s a gently paced film, but it never feels slow. The character drama is at the center of the story, and that keeps things moving along nicely. The dialogue feels natural, and the plot beautifully creates tension and uncertainty without it ever feeling overbearing.
My only issue is that so often things are telegraphed well in advance. Someone will tell a character to avoid groups of ruffians in Germany…and then said character encounters such a group who steals his coat. Or someone will say, “what if this happened?” and then that exact thing happens later on. No script will ever be free of convenient coincidences, but this one makes those coincidences just a bit too obvious at times.
Acting (10): Mark Rylance absolutely deserved that Best Supporting Actor Oscar. His performance is part of what gives this movie its depth and re-watch-ability. He uses subtle hand gestures and facial tics to make his character come alive in such a way that you rarely see in movies. He doesn’t feel like a larger-than-life guy or an ideal in any way, but you care deeply what happens to him, and you can’t stop watching him, even if he’s not really doing anything. I’m glad he works with Spielberg twice more (we’ll get there) because the two of them work VERY well together.
I’m also a massive fan of Tom Hanks’ character. Now, unlike Abel, Donovan IS an idealized character. He’s the All-American good guy, and perhaps a bit more noble than your average human being, but you can’t help but root for him because Hanks infuses him with so much genuine warmth. What could have been an ordinarily flat character (anyone else would have played him as a Living Constitution) becomes a genuine likable hero that we want to see succeed.
There are tons of other great performances in here, including Alan Alda (as Watters), Dakin Matthews (as Judge Byers), Austin Stowell (Bowers), and Scott Shepherd (Hoffman).
Visual Style (9): This one uses the washed out colors that we saw in Lincoln and Saving Private Ryan, but it works, giving the film a vintage look that fits VERY well with the 1960s setting. Unlike with Lincoln, this film isn’t quite as shadowy, so the performances of the actors are well-highlighted. The whole thing suggests film noir as well as black and white newscasts, which makes for some fantastic visual moments.
East Germany is suitably gritty and filled with paranoia while the scenes back in America have the quality of a faded postcard. By this point, Spielberg and cinematographer Janisz Kaminski are basically sharing a brain, and it’s evident.
Also the scene where the plane crashes is INCREDIBLY shot. It’s completely harrowing and feels new and fresh in ways that many similar scenes in other movies don’t manage.
Music (9): Now, John Williams didn’t do this one, which is sad, but I was pleasantly surprised at how well Thomas Newman (whose style is very different) works with Spielberg’s visuals. Newman has an ethereal quality to his music, and that does a great job of conveying the tenuous nature of the situation.
One thing that surprised me is how much of the film has no score whatsoever. Newman’s score (which was nominated for an Oscar) is used very sparingly, which keeps the focus on the characters. The music in this case doesn’t tell the story the way it does in War Horse or Schindler’s List. It shows up when it’s needed, but it doesn’t ever take center stage, except for in the end when it closes out the film.
It’s a beautiful score that brings out different elements of the characters’ stories than Williams does, so it’s nice to hear a different musical palette than we usually do (the last time this happened was with The Color Purple). Still, it’s nice Williams comes back for Spielberg’s next film.
Genre (9): It blends genres, combining John Le Carre-esque espionage with elements of courtroom drama and historical commentary, all of which Spielberg is very good at.
Blending genres is sometimes a risky bet with Spielberg, as we saw in the past, but this one does it very well. I think that’s the result of the amazing script. The shift to James-Bond-esque action with the plane crash feels logical and necessary. Then we find ourselves out of the courtroom and into Germany where there are armed soldiers everywhere and every conversation has an uncertain outcome, and it all fits together nicely.
I think the sense of cohesion and fluid movement is part of why I love this movie so much. It has a confidence to it, but not the brash boldness of a superhero flick. It knows exactly what it’s doing and was obviously well planned out in advance.
Overall Thoughts: An immensely satisfying character drama featuring some fantastic performances.
Total Score: 46/50
- Schindler’s List (50)
- Saving Private Ryan (48)
- Catch Me If You Can (46)
- Bridge of Spies (46) This was close, but RT liked Catch Me If You Can a little bit more. But still! Top 5! Whooo!
- E.T. (45)
- Jurassic Park (44)
- The Color Purple (44)
- The Adventures of Tintin (44)
- Raiders of the Lost Ark (43)
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (43)
- Jaws (42)
- War Horse (42)
- Empire of the Sun (42)
- Minority Report (41)
- Munich (41)
- Amistad (41)
- Lincoln (40)
- A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (40)
- War of the Worlds (39)
- The Terminal (39)
- Hook (39)
- Close Encounters of the Third Kind (38)
- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (37)
- The Sugarland Express (35)
- Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (35)
- Always (34)
- The Lost World: Jurassic Park (33)
- 1941 (27)
Next up, things get Disneyfied!