Friday 8 January 2016

Bridge Of Spies

Spy Society

Bridge Of Spies
2015 USA
Directed by Steven Spielberg
UK cinema release print.

So once again we have a Steven Spielberg movie which stars someone who I believe is fast becoming a frequent collaborator of his, Tom Hanks. Hanks is one of those rare cases, for me, when I actually spotted him as a talent to be watched way before he ever got famous. Back in 1982, which is the last time I saw it (and I wish it wasn’t), I watched a TV movie called Mazes And Monsters which starred young Tom as a man whose Dungeons And Dragons gaming had caused a malfunction in his brain. He started confusing the game for real life... or something like that. Forgive me, it’s been a long time. I remember liking it so much that I read the source novel it was based on and also told my friends to look out for this guy called Tom Hanks because he could really act. Two years later he made Splash and it didn’t take long before his name was synonymous with quality acting and, due to some sound career decisions, quality movies.

I’m not the best lover of some of the material he’s been in but I still, to this day, think Hanks is an incredible performer and, whether I like his films or not, I always find that his presence lifts whatever he’s in. A truly great actor and, to boot, with a public persona that makes him someone you really wouldn’t mind hanging out with at a pub on a Saturday night, perhaps.

Bridge Of Spies is no exception but it also, of course, comes with the seal of competence that Spielberg, again... whether I agree with his choice of subject matter or not... brings to all of his work as a director and producer. He makes films which are so well put together that you know that, whether you are going to have a really great time with his movie or not, that the very least you will get is something compelling in the way it is shot. Something which isn’t dull.

Bridge Of Spies is certainly never dull and, since Spielberg knows how to use his toolbox of cinematic syntax so well, it turns out to be an extremely entertaining movie. It’s not exactly a dynamic movie, although it does start off with a very gripping sequence which is like a toned down version of something you might expect to see in The Quiller Memorandum (reviewed by me here). That is to say, it starts off with a classic set of sequences featuring a spy and the people trailing him before he makes his escape and is then raided at home, quietly destroying as much evidence as he can right under the noses of the people sent to arrest him.

So, yeah. Maybe not dynamic but certainly very interestingok and Spielberg’s use of some amazing compositions, many of which section various characters off into their own little compartments in the way the frames are split by scenery and objects, is brilliant throughout the running time of the movie. The shots are leisurely and slow for the most part but, because Spielberg is so gifted with making things look perfect visually, well... like I implied earlier... you’re certainly not going to get bored with this one. The film is almost two and a half hours long but you probably won’t feel that it is.

This ‘inspired by a true story’ tale is fantastically put together as we see Tom Hanks character defend a real life Russian spy with a Scottish accent (which is apparently as it was in the real circumstances) and also negotiate an exchange for the Russian for two US prisoners or varying interest to the US government. As you would expect, you get as fine a performance from Tom Hanks and his co-stars in this picture as you would expect and special mention must go to Mark Rylance playing the ‘unworried by possible death’, laid back spy whom Tom Hanks develops a friendship with. It’s good stuff and, though it’s not an action movie it's... well, like I said before in reference to Spielberg’s movies... it’s compelling. It also helps that, while it’s a dialogue heavy movie, Spielberg is one of those few directors who understands that silence is golden and will leave a character to contemplate things in a way which almost allows the audience to pick up on their thought processes without having to have it spoon fed in the narrative. It harkens back to the days of silent cinema to an extent and with someone like Hanks at the helm in terms of the acting stakes... you know you are going to get something very crystal clear coming through to your spectators. There’s a wonderful shot near the end of the movie where Hanks sees some kids climbing fences from the train he’s on and you realise just what he’s thinking about due to the visual metaphor of the shot echoing something far more dramatic you see earlier in the movie. No words are used to bolster or spell out this moment... most people will surely ‘get it’ though.

One slight criticism I have with the movie is Thomas Newman’s score. Now this is one of the very few times that Spielberg has not teamed up with John Williams to provide music for his art. My understanding is that Williams was fitted with a pacemaker this year and couldn’t keep up with scoring both this movie and the new Star Wars movie (reviewed by me here) and so was forced to drop this one. Newman’s score is certainly serviceable and kinda appropriate in the places it’s used but... I dunno, maybe I’m just being biased here but I didn’t feel it was anything more than appropriate. It didn’t feel out of place but it didn’t feel to me like it was adding any lift to the movie either. As a stand alone listen it’s probably pretty cool but it just felt a little ‘off’ to me, I would say. There’s actually very little music in the movie, it has to be said. The way the thing is spotted is such that there are lots of long passages, it seemed to me, with no score in it whatsoever... so I wonder if that would have been the case if Williams was involved or not. I guess well never know and Newman certainly doesn’t let the film down too much, I think... I just didn’t experience the emotional pull I was expecting in some scenes... at least not from the music.

All that being said though... Bridge Of Spies is a very fine film. It’s not something I could watch again anytime soon but it’s a quality product and I think it deserves to be seen as much as anything else out there at the moment. Spielberg and Hanks are both masters of their art and this film is absolutely no exception. If you’re a fan of cinema, you really should go and see this one if you get the opportunity. Not the best film from either Hanks or Spielberg but certainly something which will probably linger with you a while after you leave the cinema. Don’t let this one pass you by.

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