NYFF Film Review: Bridge of Spies (★★★)


BridgeofSpies_posterOne of the most prolific directors in the history of cinema, Steven Spielberg, returns to the silver screen with his new period thriller “Bridge of Spies” starring two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks.  It features competent and solid filmmaking from its director, writers, and crafts team however, the film doesn’t quite ignite passion and excitement from its standard storytelling.  What really manages to standout is the impeccable and sensational performance of Emmy Award nominee Mark Rylance, who steals and owns every scene he’s present.

The film tells the story of James Donovan (Hanks), an American lawyer that is recruited by the CIA during the Cold War to help rescue a pilot (Austin Stowell) detained in the Soviet Union.  It all begins with the discovery of a probable spy on our own soil Rudolf Abel (Rylance), who tests Donovan’s profession and safety net.

Academy Award winner Steven Spielberg brings many of his signature techniques to the spy tale.  Tugging at the emotional heartstrings is an Olympic event at this juncture in his career, although not exactly hitting the mark the way it was intended.  He frames his scenes with the same familiar authority that we’ve grown to love about Spielberg, and it definitely exceeds some of his lesser works like “War Horse” and “The Terminal.”  What the film truly lacks is a daring approach to its source material.  Unfamiliar with the story and real life individuals, Spielberg, and the writers, Joel & Ethan Coen and Matt Charman, don’t enter the grit and horror of two countries at a feud, literally on the brink of a real devastating war.

Bridge-of-Spies-Mark-RylanceTom Hanks brings his natural charisma and wit that we’ve loved about him for decades.  His James Donovan is caring, engaging, and reminiscent of Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”  His devotion to his family and the human condition is truly admirable, all clear and on display thanks to Hanks.  As Rudolf Abel, Mark Rylance is just a joy to behold, filling in the gaps of the film’s shortcomings with charm and seasoned acting ability.  It’s a brilliant turn by a brilliant actor.  It’s one of the year’s best supporting turns and a contender for the Oscar statue.

As James’ wife Mary, Amy Ryan is relegated to just a few scenes but great nonetheless.  Also brief are the works of Billy Magnussen and Alan Alda, who have good, solid one scenes to chew on.

Technically the film does present qualms.  Janusz Kaminski’s camera work is distracting in parts, shining bright lights through windows, and keeping a one note camera style all throughout its 135 minute run time.  Thomas Newman’s score isn’t put to its best use, as it swells in inopportune moments, even managing to overwhelm a key and fantastic scene by Rylance.  Michael Kahn cuts the film to a bloated expansive run time but manages to keep you involved enough to make it through.  The film really shines in its Production Design by Adam Stockhausen and its Costume work by Kasia Walicka-Maimone.

“Bridge of Spies” may find lovers in mass audiences.  What it does well is ignite a curiosity and power to look at the history of its subject.  Spielberg succeeds at introducing the world to James Donovan and what else he contributed to society, along with the supporting players at hand.  We do wish that a better, more dynamic treatment had hit the screens.  From an awards standpoint, it’s going to appeal to a great deal.  Perhaps a second viewing will open up more possibilities.

“Bridge of Spies” opens in theaters this month.