“Murkan values and apple pie” Bridge of Spies review


BRIDGE OF SPIES (UK CERT  12A)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Music: Thomas Newman

Starring: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda


 

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By Rob Stoakes

When it comes to film, the general public are always being portrayed as a load of big crybabies who run away from everything. Though, honestly, why not? When we’re not being stomped on by Godzilla, Loki is mind-controlling us with his evil magic and cute face, or were-vampire aliens are rising from the dead. No wonder we’re being portrayed as so panicky and frightened all the time; in the world of cinema, everything wants the public dead.

And in Bridge of Spies, the public is presented with the greatest threat of all; Russians.

Throughout the whole film, we can see the cloying sense of paranoia that was eating away at 50’s America during the Cold War, and it lends a unique tone. Even though everyone acts like nothing’s wrong, casually saying grace before dinner and being incredibly polite to one another, you get a sense of a sort of crushing dread and everyone waiting to snap and start the war no one wants. Imagine if you’ve gone to McDonalds to find a loaded gun on the table and your waiter’s Darth Vader.

Tom Hanks plays James Donovan, though with the plot and his spotless morality he might as well be called Atticus Finch, a lawyer tasked with the unenviable task of defending Soviet spy Rudolph Abel. Everyone knows Abel’s guilty and most want him hung, but Donovan won’t let that stop him from putting up a proper defence because of the Constitution and ‘murkan values and apple pie and questionable foreign policy and all the other things that make ‘murka ‘murka.

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Billy Magnussen, Mark Rylance and Tom Hanks. Copyright: Amblin Entertainment and 20th Century Fox.

However, the Coen Brothers are clearly not so enamoured with ‘murka as Donovan, and the script is full of vicious barbs directed at both sides of the conflict, showing how the most likely cause of a war starting will be the fear and distrust that got the two nations to this uneasy standoff in the first place. But there is a certain sparkle missing; for all of the complexity of the themes and the intrigue of the plot, the characters populating the film seem a mite too flat to be truly interesting, besides Donovan because he was already stolen from To Kill A Mockingbird.

The Cold War paranoia lends a lot of realism to the film, but the script is not alone in creating it. The design of the film reeks of the 50’s, with Brooklyn being soaked in a permanent beige hue the same colour as everyone’s bracers and suits, and Berlin having a dark blue. It clearly splits the film into two bits, and makes both halves of the film seem like they belong together and yet are wholly distinct. Also, Spielberg hit the peak of his career long ago, but he also shows that he hasn’t grown complacent behind the camera, with cinematography that is more than acceptable.

If there is a criticism, it might be the acting, though this is more because Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance don’t let anyone else do anything interesting. The film is undeniably James Donovan’s story, so Tom Hanks’ unshakable but casual air completely bulldozes everyone around him, and Rylance as Abel is perfect as a semi-comedic spy who is entirely unconcerned with even the prospect of execution.

Unfortunately, they seem to suck their talent from those around them; Scott Shepherd is completely flat as the heartless CIA agent, Donovan’s entire family seem to have one way of saying every line, and Austin Stowell’s Agent Powers is supposed to appear like a sympathetic all-American trooper in a bad situation and wanting to go home, but instead looks like a poster hanging in a young girl’s bedroom and is clearly could be out-acted by one.

Overall, Bridge of Spies is a film that is almost uniformly good and in many places great, but doesn’t quite stick the finish to being a five star knockout. As good as the plot is, the few interesting characters don’t make up for the legion of boring cardboard cut-outs. Still, it’s not a film you’ll regret seeing either.

Plus, the public being scared finally makes sense in a film.

Category Scoring out of 5 ⭐
Story/Plot ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Acting/Vocal Performance ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Special Effects/Cinematography ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Soundtrack ⭐ ⭐
Costume/Design ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Script/Dialogue ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
OVERALL RATING ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½

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