Film Review: Bridge of Spies

I mentioned in my review of ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King how, in my mind, I liken King to Steven Spielberg. That they have reached the pinnacle of their industries and, as such, command respect and admiration through sheer reputation alone. To borrow a sporting term “they are a safe pair of hands”, however, this idealistic thinking forces their association to raise expectations. Whether justified or not.

The reason I say that is because the one Stephen King novel I’ve read I didn’t really enjoy, and Spielberg has produced an interesting reel of films over the last decade that seem to swing wildly in quality (Lincoln versus War of the Worlds and the 4th Indiana Jones film for example). So maybe the mental image I hold, that they can produce no wrong, is in fact, not entirely right?

Tom Hanks & Steven Spielberg - Bridge Of Spies

Spielberg, however, does hit the mark more often than not. It’s through his films that I feel head over heels into the world of cinema. He created Jurassic Park after all and if you spend a few minutes reading his filmography as a director the consistency appears: Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark and the list can easily go on: Empire Of The Sun, Jaws etc.

Bridge of Spies is Spielberg’s latest offering and I heard nothing but good things about it. Every review implying that is was Spielberg back to his best and working with a cast at the top of their game. It’s fair to say, that as a result, I expected a lot. That even though I didn’t know much about the story, and by the time I eventually got to see it had forgotten what little bits I’d gleamed (to the point I assumed Tom Hanks played a spy rather than a lawyer!), the film I found more than lived up to expectations. It truly is an absolute cinematic work of quality. It is film making of the highest order.

The story is potentially heavy, especially given it’s rather lengthy running time, and yet the attention to detail and the narrative confidence it has mean it doesn’t feel anything like it’s length. I truly walked out the cinema after 141 minutes feeling like the story could have carried on without fear of getting bored. The reason for this is that the story just sweeps you up and carries you with it. You get tangled up in its web and twisted through it’s thrilling tale. It’s not an emotional film. It’s not the type of film that has your heart racing as you slip to the edge of your seat. It just creates power and emotion through the way it speaks and presents itself. Everything is clear, on point and empathic, in a rich and deep way that vibrates your bones and overcomes you rather than aggressively slapping you round the head.

Tom Hanks (Shadows) - Bridge Of Spies

I do have a couple of issues with it though. To start off with, whether accurate to the real life source material or not, the running theme of characters having colds just became annoying. It serves a small narrative purpose of presenting drive and determination, but ultimately, I don’t really want to see someone sniffling and sneezing if I can help it. Thankfully it stops short of the full chicken soup and slippers but I don’t think the film would be in any way lacking if they’d left it out.

Moving on, I struggled to quite get the plot clear in my head. It’s a little bit of a true cloak and daggers spy story where people hide in shadows and are not exactly who they seem, but an entire side of the triangle appears so shady and unexplained that I was left with more questions about them than answers. It meant I failed to fully clarify the picture, and thus the plot, in my mind. It doesn’t help that the plot seems to also centre on the idea that 1 + 1 = 3 and that this arithmetic fail is accepted without question meant I was never fully confident in some of the characters.

Tom Hanks (Berlin Wall) - Bridge Of Spies

Lastly, the film is set in Berlin around the division of the city through the building of the infamous wall. This leads the film to portray a few elements of the psychological torture and confusion it created in those observing its effects, but they are given mere passing glimpses without being truly expanded. The problem is they stand out of the story badly because they are tonally, and temporally, out of pace with everything else. They are in your face and yet, because they are just passing glimpses, without the true depth of explanation they needed leave you longing for an element of the story that is teased and then ignored. It’s just frustrating more than harmful.

Bridge of Spies is easily one of the best films I’ve seen this year. It’s serious, profession film making that oozes quality from the screen throughout. It is a constant reminder that narrative description and direction can bring to life emotions and powers in a way that CGI and franchise films cannot it. It is a fascinating, grown up tale brought to life in a way that confirms, when wielded in the right way, that the pen is mightier than the sword. Really, just watch it and see for yourself!

(9 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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