Vol. 9, No. 2 – October 28 – November 10, 2015 – Movie Review

Bridge of Spies/ 4 Palm Trees

By Eduardo Victoria/eduardovictory@yahoo.com

What does Steven Spielberg have left to prove after having one of the best and most enviable careers in the history of film? He invented the blockbuster, his partnership with John Williams was crucial in the salvation of the orchestral film score, and he gave us the PG-13 rating. Now, in the late stages of his career, Spielberg has turned his eye to historical dramas.  Bridge of Spies proves that this “third act” of Spielberg’s career may be his most interesting yet.

The USSR grows more powerful as the world lives in fear of a war between the Soviets and the US. The capture of Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) leads him to the introduction of James Donovan (Tom Hanks), an insurance lawyer who’s firm throws him a high profile criminal justice (his former line of work) case because they figure it would do the firm, the country, and spirits good to put Abel away.            However, it becomes apparent that both men are that of value and principle, not willing to short change anybody to speed up an outcome. The film then completely changes focus as an American U2 pilot (Austin Stowell) is shot down and taken prisoner, leading the CIA to ask Donovan to negotiate an exchange of prisoners in East Berlin.

The “third act” of Spielberg’s career has become one of deconstructing the façade constructed by history on many of the faces, figures, and events that have become essential to what makes the people of the United States “American.” Tom Hanks, in one of the best performances of his career, tells us that it is not our heritage that makes us American, but the rulebook. He will not violate Abel’s trust, not even when confronted by the pushy CIA Agent Hoffman (Scott Shepherd).

The writing by Joel and Ethan Coen is top notch. A sequence involving Abel’s supposed family comes off as, needless to say, Coen-esque in its bizarre humor. The script, as great as it is, really doesn’t do much by way of pacing to move the story along. As magnificent as this is, the 140-minute runtime becomes very apparent. This is forgivable for some truly amazing moments. Especially in scenes between Donovan and his family, particularly when his son comes home after watching an educational video in school about what to do in case of a nuclear attack (oh, the naivety of the 50s, how charming you are).

Technically, the film’s serious nature is reflected in its color palette thanks to cinematographer Janusz Kaminski. The look of 35mm film is not subdued in anyway and as a matter of fact, I’d say is essential in this film to create the look and feel of the period. Pulling no stops, Spielberg throws us headfirst into the period and it is astoundingly beautiful.

Tying all elements together is a score by composer Thomas Newman, who had to step in to replace John Williams on this picture, and he does an admirable job. The Newmans are incredible at crafting scores that are distinctly American, with Tom Newman sounding the most “contemporary.” It is delicate, tense, but in the end, exactly what the film needs and no more.

A serious awards contender, Bridge of Spies goes beyond a typical awards season film and explores themes and behaviors that are, if anything, as relevant now as they were back in the late 50s. What makes us American? How far are we willing to go to do what is right? When our countries don’t want to be involved, they called on Donovan- who proved that sometimes, we have to set aside preconceived notions and prejudices to bring people proper justice, a principle that is truly American.

Rated PG-13. 140 minutes. Drama. Now playing at Cinemark Downtown 10.

 

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