About halfway through Bridge of Spies I was overcome with a rather profound thought; “Fuck me East Berlin looks cold.” Ok, so exactly the deepest thought anyone has ever had on the oppressive Soviet regime, but I was an hour and a half into a very long, good but not great spy thriller.
Before I even get started, let me just call out a dick move on Spielberg’s part. Some underpaid assistant had to go to the nursing home, dress a very confused Alan Alda, give him a mug of hot chocolate, tell him he had to make a movie and brought him to an unfamiliar set. They went to all this trouble to let two of the greatest actors ever share the screen and Hanks and Alda get about three scenes together at which point Alda is disappeared forever. Not cool Steven, not cool.
Anyway, throughout both of their illustrious careers, collaborations between Spielberg and Hanks have usually brought out the best of both men. From the brutally realistic war depicted in Saving Private Ryan, the fun crime romp in Catch Me If You Can to the excellent mini-series Band of Brothers.
The film follows an insurance lawyer James B. Donovan (Hanks) who leads a colourful cast of characters driving around in a van solving mysteries. No wait, that’s Scooby Doo. The film actually follows an insurance lawyer James B. Donovan whom is tasked with defending a KGB spy during the red-scare of the early 60s and ultimately negotiating his exchange for a captured American pilot with the brutal Stasi. Sounds like a pulse pounding drama right? Well…
Perhaps I was too hasty in calling Bridge of Spies a thriller, as too often it telegraphs its moves and lets the audience know too much. We know from the opening scene that Rudolf Abel is in fact a KGB spy, we know from the trailer that the U-2 spy plane gets shot down breaching international law (perhaps trying to release Bono’s wailing onto an already suffering population) and we know that there will be a prisoner swap on the Glinicke Bridge because it’s the name of the bloody movie. Ideally a film should always be one to two steps ahead of the audience to keep them guessing. With Bridge of Spies, we are more or less killing time ‘til the credits… and yes I just realised I’m giving Steven Spielberg advice on filmmaking and the nature of suspense. Christ.
As would be expected from the calibre of talent involved, the film is beautifully shot and skilfully acted but ultimately is just too familiar to be special. Not to say that familiar is bad, familiar gets you through a working week when you can’t be arsed to go out. What I’m trying to say is that Bridge of Spies is the cinematic equivalent of spaghetti bolognaise. The movie is not really worth seeing it at the cinema, but add it to your Netflix list.
Oh also this marks the first time since 1985 that John Williams hasn’t composed the soundtrack in a Spielberg movie. Sadly Williams was too ill to work, ending one of the most successful streaks ever.
See how there was a natural conclusion two paragraphs above? Yeah well the movie does that as well, pulls a Lord of the Rings and ends fifteen bloody times. I have been sitting here for 141 minutes, stop slowly fading out and fading back in and let me leave.