Sunday, February 14, 2016

Film Review: Bridge of Spies (2015)

Copyright: 20th Century Fox
30 years ago, when Steven Spielberg and the Coen Brothers were younger and a lot hungrier for recognition, I could imagine the Bridge of Spy becoming an interesting film. Back then, aside from the supposed mindset of these men, this film about Cold War spies would have had an additional advantage: the USSR would have still existed.

Today, however, spies are mostly people who sit behind a computer and fly a drone over some country where beards are very popular or who force their way into the enemy’s (and more than often allies) databases. The age of the agent 007 is so gone that even the last film from this series desires to put the notion of the gentleman spy to its eternal resting place.

But, Spielberg-Coen production decided that the world of the spy genre had too much technology, YouTube head chopping videos, and radical Islamism villains.

Instead, they took us to a much simple time, when the world was facing total nuclear annihilation, but you could hop on a train and be pretty certain that no one would try to blow it up using their mom’s pressure cooker. Here, a New York lawyer by the name of James B. Donovan (played by Tom Hanks) gets to defend Rudolf Abel, an almost-certainly Russian spy.

On the other side of the world, a newly recruited CIA “driver” or U2 spy pilot sets off from Peshawar airbase in Pakistan (which is also Islamism-free back then) to snap some photos of the USSR secret facilities. The Americans are assured that the U2 cannot be brought down, forgetting that age-old wisdom that you never-ever go off to invade Russia, even using a single funny-looking airplane.

In rapid succession, both US and USSR have got themselves valuable spies in custody. But, Donovan, being a sharp mind used to tough negotiation, finds himself in the middle of the trade-off deal involving his country, the Russians but also the German Democratic Republic. The complex web of interests and lies is soon spun from all corners, but Donovan plows through it, determined to save his countrymen.

The Bridge of Spies is so vanilla that you can taste it in every scene and with every character. Everyone is human and logical and every person Donovan meets makes sense from their own vantage point. There are no stereotypes, not even on the Russian side, where they are usually found in other US films. Instead, the Coen Brothers’ script plays out like a really expansive documentary film about human determination to be rational when all the global mindset in every country calls for blood. But it is still very vanilla in its realization, from the cinematography to the constantly worried, I’m-not-a-hero hero Tom Hanks. Like with Captain Phillips, this gig that Hanks does is getting a bit bothersome.

I imagine that the main reason for making this film was to show the world who James B. Donovan was. While he apparently was a great guy who wanted to talk with his enemies instead of exclusively hate them and trying to kill them, the Bridge of Spies is still a masterfully made TV movie.

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