Starring: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda
Genre: Drama/ Thriller
During the cold war, American lawyer James Donovan (Hanks) is asked to defend in court an arrested Soviet spy (Rylance). Though his defence is unsuccessful, after an American pilot is shot down and captured by the Soviet Union, James is sent to Berlin, and in doing so risking his own potential capture, to negotiate an exchange for both the pilot and a wrongfully arrested American student.
Unbelievably, Bridge of Spies is Spielberg’s first directorial offering for three years, but it proves that one of Hollywood’s most consistent directors has lost none of his panache; Bridge of Spies is textbook Spielberg in many ways in terms of certainly having wonderfully polished and cinematic visuals combined with the usual feel-good schmaltz. However, whereas the narrative of Bridge of Spies would seem horribly contrived and predictable in the hands of other filmmakers, Spielberg and his team manage to make it an infinitely watchable and emotionally involving film in the unique way that often only Steven Spielberg can deliver. When watching Bridge of Spies it is almost impossible not to simply sit back and admire what is on screen, and the fact that is basically masterful film making of the very highest standard, a standard Spielberg himself was in some ways responsible for initially setting.
Everything that happens during the narrative’s 140 minutes is delivered with neat and tidy cinematic polish, and there is very much an element of contrivance, predictability, borderline naive ideologies and crowd pleasing schmaltz to everything on-screen, but yet Spielberg miraculously gets away with this. It is no fluke and further evidence as to why he is one the most celebrated directors of all time. The fact it is that though Bridge of Spies has what could easily be negative characteristics, Spielberg skilfully manages to turn these into emotionally engaging and involving viewing; Bridge of Spies is quite simply pure blockbuster cinema of the highest standard and once again Spielberg skilfully succeeds where so many other filmmakers fail.
Of course another factor as to why Bridge of Spies is just such a wonderfully immersive experience is the performances; Tom Hanks has made a career out of playing righteous and incorruptible good guys, but the reason he has managed to do this is because he does it so god damn well. Hanks is in pretty much every scene of the film and commands every scene with his natural charisma and also good sense of humour. Once again, this is a character that in isolation could be described as a good guy beyond all contrivances, but as it is Hanks that is not a problem and we do believe in him and cannot help but route for him. Mark Rylance is also excellent, even though he gets far less scenes than his inclusion on the poster might suggest.
Admittedly the necessity for a 12A rating takes away some of the sense of genuine danger, and the extreme danger to his own life that James Donovan does often risk is never truly felt, especially as Donovan often uses a sense of humour. Spielberg is the master of feel-good blockbusters, but the tone of certain scenes does feel a little misjudged just to make sure the rating stays at a 12A.
I have said many times that clichés and contrivances are not what make a bad or good film, but it is how they are presented by the narrative; well Bridge of Spies has clichés and contrivances in abundance, but yet Spielberg and Hanks only utilise these to make for a deeply involving film. From its superbly executed opening sequence to its emotionally satisfying ending, Bridge of Spies is everything old fashioned blockbuster film making should be.
Hanks and Spielberg combine to deliver a masterclass in blockbuster filmmaking; Bridge of Spies may have its clichés, contrivances and fair amount of schmaltz, but in the hands of these two masters of their craft, it only makes for more engaging viewing.