by Sandra Kraisirideja
Bridge of Spies, the latest historically based drama from director Steven Spielberg, has impeccable production design and a solid cast led by Tom Hanks but the story lags and there isn’t enough conflict to keep viewers fully engaged during its 141 minute running time.
Historical dramas by esteemed directors are the kinds of movies that populate streaming service queues but are rarely watched. I don’t want to admit I found Bridge of Spies to be a bit dull for fear that it makes me sound lazy and uneducated. I should be fascinated by a story inspired by true events involving the exchange of suspected spies that took place at the height of the Cold War, right? Especially when Spielberg is the director and the Coen brothers are credited for the script along with Matt Charman.
The plot goes as follows: In the early 1950s, at the start of the Cold War, Brooklyn attorney James B. Donovan (Hanks) is assigned the task of representing a foreign national, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), who is accused of being a spy. After a guilty verdict is handed down by the jury, Donovan convinces the presiding judge to choose life in prison rather than a death sentence in case the opportunity arises for a prisoner exchange with America.
It turns out Donovan was right and circumstances arise that result in him being asked by the CIA to help facilitate a prisoner exchange for two American citizens; one is an American soldier shot down while taking surveillance photos in a U2 bomber and the other is a graduate student who is taken into custody by East Germany.
Bridge of Spies is being marketed as a dramatic thriller, but “thriller” is a bit of a stretch. There is a lot more talking in the movie than anything else.
There are moments of levity and Hanks character is a stand-up guy who doesn’t seem to have any dark demons lurking inside. This results is an adequate performance from Hanks but it doesn’t stretch his abilities by any means. It feels like you’re watching Tom Hanks be Tom Hanks.
Rylance is a celebrated theatrical actor who is not as well known to movie audiences. He does a fine job in the movie but there’s not much backstory to his character and very little dialogue. He remains mysterious, which is in keeping with the theme of the movie.
Bridge of Spies comes out of Spielberg’s fascination with American history from World War II and beyond. There are fantastic period details in the film and production designer Adam Stockhausen, who has worked on Wes Anderson’s productions, does an excellent job capturing 1950s Brooklyn. Costume designer Kasia Walicka-Maimone, another Wes Anderson, alumnus nails the male look of the time as well.
I wanted to like this movie as much as I enjoyed Lincoln. Spielberg is a competent director and if there is anyone who could make a story like this interesting it’s him. Part of me also misses the Spielberg of my youth who made wonderful, heartwarming movies that were loads of fun to watch. I understand artists mature and their interests change, but it would still be great if he did a “fun” and less “serious” movie soon.