‘Bridge of Spies’ is a movie that doesn’t seem to quite know what it wants to be. As many have undoubtedly already stated this movie is expertly crafted, no doubt about it, but when the name Spielberg is at the forefront, people come to the cinema with weighty expectations. The film has this disjointed feeling from start to finish, but this doesn’t mean it isn’t a well made movie, just that there clear stylistic choices that are somewhat at odds with each other. Perhaps the silver screen pairing of the Coen Brothers on the screenplay and Spielberg’s direction tendencies just weren’t quite the match made in movie heaven that some thought it would end up being.
The film centers around the true life events of James Donovan, an American insurance lawyer in 1957 that ends up being selected to defend a recently captured Soviet spy, Rudolph Abel, acted quite well by Mark Rylance. As this is happening an American pilot is captured across the Soviet border while on a reconnaissance mission to gain precious info on the Russians. This time it is the CIA that comes to Donovan to get him to negotiate their spy for ours. Thus begins the heart of the movie. I will say there are plenty of great choices in the film. Obviously Hanks does a stellar job, but curiously in a handful of scenes it almost seems as if even Hanks is almost going through the motions of the film. His scenes with Russian spy Abel are always on point though. There is visually clever editing throughout, and the production team that designed the sets used deserve applause because never once do you feel as if the characters are not in the year 1957.
Lets get to the meat of it though. It feels as though Spielberg wasn’t sure if he wanted to create something more in line with his more serious films like ‘Lincoln’ or ‘Saving Private Ryan’ or his popcorn flicks like ‘Jaws’, ‘Jurassic Park’, or even ‘Catch me if you can’. The film is chock full of idealistic speeches given by Tom Hanks’ character James Donovan. It’s also sprinkled throughout with moments of dynamic tension concerning foot chases, aerial action, and terse negotiating. This wouldn’t be so bad if these same things weren’t also happening in other areas of the film as a whole. This is firstly evident in the writing. Now, this film is very well written, that’s not the issue here. The Issue is that the Coen brothers’ style, which can be felt whenever a character opens their mouth, seems to be running at a different pace than the action, acting, or plot. For example, its often repeated for the main character to ‘be careful’ as danger is afoot, in fact danger is frequently mentioned, but you never quite feel as if anyone you care about in the movie is in any palpable danger at all. It never fully feels as though the two ends of the spectrum are in tandem with each other. They’re both good and well in execution, they just feel out of sync with each other.
There is however one obviously glaring omission in this Spielberg flick. No John Williams. Which is a bit of a let down because the composer and director have come to be recognized with one another after all this time. This is only the second film that Spielberg has not collaborated with Williams on for the score. And you can tell. It almost seems as if Spielberg had a conversation with composer Thomas Newman asking him to “Just try and do what John Williams would do” because the score consistently tries to reach the heights of the legendary composer while only getting to some knockoff version that sounds like Danny Elfman trying to do John Williams instead.
Let it be known however that none of this means that the film is not good or entertaining, it is. We as moviegoers have simply come to expect a more complete package from Steven Spielberg at this point. The movie has heart, a whole lot of it, and at the end you’ll probably leave with slightly warm feelings about it, but I doubt the film ‘WOW’ed anyone at all. When you begin to be associated with wowing people, they will come to expect it. Maybe next time Spielberg. We still love you.
Final Score: 8/10