We’re reaching the tail-end of 2015 and that means it’s the awards season of movies, the ones you to the theater to see and expect great things. And on my count so far, there have been at least three or four spy movies this year alone. And now Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies can be counted among them. With Tom Hanks reuniting with Spielberg, it’s almost a guarantee that the movie should be really good. Unfortunately, the film teeters between interesting subject matter and a complete lack of emotional attachment to any of its characters.
Jim Donovan (Tom Hanks) is an insurance claims lawyer. It’s 1957 and the U.S. and the Soviet Union are in the midst of the Cold War. The Red Scare and the fear of communism, spies, and nuclear bombs being dropped are heavy in the air. People are building bomb shelters and being as paranoid as they were when Y2K was approaching. Colonel Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) is living in Brooklyn, painting, and spying on behalf of Russia. After being caught, Donovan is assigned to defend him in court, much to the horror of the general public. But things aren’t as peachy as they seem after Donovan is sent over to Berlin to negotiate the trade of Abel and spy pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell), tangling Donovan with much more responsibility than he was meant to take on.
Spy movies that take place during the Cold War or target the Soviets as the bad guys have kind of lost their touch over the years. People flocked to see them before, now, not so much. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit being a primary example from a couple of years ago. And it may be the case with Bridge of Spies. It isn’t even that it’s particularly a bad film, but it just has no essence. It’s backed by an almost surreal story that has all the elements to be tantalizingly thrilling drama and suspense, but it’s underwhelming at best, unremarkable at most.
Tom Hanks is genuine in his role as Donovan, a likable man who takes a liking to his client and wants to make sure he’s treated humanely. He’s the everyman in many ways, the good all of us aspire to do and be in our lives, regardless of what anyone thinks at the time. His scenes with Rylance bring humor and chemistry to an otherwise flat and not very suspenseful film. Donovan pleads to not rush into judgement without knowing all the facts, and to this end, he certainly delivers.
However, Spielberg has everyone reciting their dialogue without much gusto, and perhaps that’s the script’s fault, but there isn’t a single character who truly speaks passionately about anything even when the situation calls for it many times over. You may leave the theater feeling a bit patriotic and happy that there is hope to be had in a world that always seems to be at war, but the film’s semi-slow pacing, lack of urgency and generally anti-climactic premise take its toll in a film that is nearly two and a half hours long.
Release Date: October 16, 2015 | Director: Steven Spielberg | Screenwriters: Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen | Cast: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Austin Stowell, Domenick Lombardozzi, Victor Verhaeghe, Jesse Plemons, Amy Ryan | Genre: Drama, Thriller | MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violence and brief strong language