by: Michael Reistetter
The Cold War period piece starring Tom Hanks checked off almost every desirable element of what constitutes the archetypical “Spielberg” film. However, Bridge of Spies, a film advertised as a reminder of the wave of anti-American terrorizers currently active on American soil, failed to properly incorporate the thrilling component of a spy film. This reality made the films’ worst parts as dull as its best parts were cliché.
A better suited title for Spielberg’s latest picture could have been “Standing Man,” referring to an anecdote delivered by established theater actor Mark Rylance, who plays the 1950s Russian spy detained in America, put on trial, and sentenced to prison. He speaks a monologue with profound deliberateness while chatting up the American hired to defend him, James Donavan, played by Tom Hanks. The “Standing Man” analogy Rylance uses to describe Hanks’s character does more justice to the integrity of the film, rather than “Bridge of Spies,” a title that both spoils the climatic scene and miss-markets Spielberg’s intended tone and premise.
The “fish-out-of-water” true story depicts Hanks playing Donavan, a real-life insurance lawyer who seemingly always thrives in pressure situations that send him in way over his head. Hanks, in his typical “everyman role,” is an ordinary man with extraordinary ambitions. A patriarch of a generic 1950s household, taking on the daunting task of defending a spy, which will forever alter the direction of his personal and professional life.
While the story unravels, and Donavan’s situation grows increasingly overwhelming as the stakes are raised to higher levels, the musical score attempts to convince its viewers of what emotion they should be inhibiting.
The film is a pseudo-drama, showcasing both Hanks’ acting abilities we are already very much aware of, and Spielberg’s cinematic and strategic genius we do not have to be reminded of anymore. The end-result has the same filmmaker who made us fearful with Jaws, laugh-out-loud with E.T., and cry our eyes out with Schindler’s List, apparently left with nothing more to offer.
Spielberg’s last film Lincoln’s total running time created depressingly dragged out sequences during the takes, not including the Oscar-winning performance of Daniel Day Lewis as Abraham Lincoln. Bridge of Spies uses the same formula to put emphasis on a Tom Hanks performance incomparable to Day Lewis’s, and certainly not as deserving of significant award nominations.
Overall, the film played out more like a predictable novel, whose few saving graces could not undo the damage inherently done. The shining moments could not prevent Bridge of Spies from becoming a rare Spielberg film unable to follow-through on its grandest promises. Hopefully, he can turn it around with next year’s E.T.-meets-Iron Giant-family comedy, THE B.F.G., as in some cases, and Spielberg can confirm, “less is undoubtedly more.”