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‘Bridge of Spies’ Well-Crafted But Slow Cold War Thriller

Bridge_of_Spies_posterTom Hanks starring in a Steven Spielberg period piece. Yup, Oscar Season is upon us.

Based on a true story, “Bridge of Spies” stars Hanks as a New York lawyer who must organize a swap of a Soviet spy (Mark Rylance) and a captured American pilot (Austin Stowell) during the Cold War. Spielberg directs.

The bar is always going to be set high for Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks when the two are doing their own thing, so when they team up (this is the fourth time in their careers), expectations are through the roof. So is “Bridge of Spies” the full-blown, hands-down best film of the year? No, unfortunately not, however it is still a very well-crafted espionage thriller that offers solid work from two of the most famous men in Hollywood history.

The best way I can describe “Bridge of Spies” is I admire and appreciate it more than I enjoyed it (much like “Sicario”). That’s not to say the film is not watchable, far from it; you’re more likely to find an honest politician than an unwatchable Tom Hanks film. But the pacing and the dialogue-driven narrative definitely weigh down admirable work from Hanks and Spielberg, as well as Rylance.

The acting in the film is everything you would expect from a Steven Spielberg movie, and saying Tom Hanks gives a great performance would be a waste of time because at this point we expect (and often receive) nothing less. Hanks’ James Donovan is a likable guy who is in way over his head in political maneuverings he doesn’t fully understand.

The real star of the show, however, is Mark Rylance’s captured Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel. Rylance steals every scene he is in, yet somehow does it with a calm, cool demeanor. He is funny without being distracting, earns our sympathy without pandering. It’s one of my favorite performances of the year and if this film gets no other talk in the next few months, I hope Rylance gets recognized for his work here.

“Bridge of Spies” is a Steven Spielberg film is ever there was one. He continues to play by Hollywood’s rules, not trying anything special with the camera or daring with the narrative. There are those trademark Spielberg “one shot” scenes that don’t feel like they’re one single take because of his masterful placement and movement of the camera, which those are always a treat.

The biggest gripe I have is that the film really isn’t paced well, and all too often scenes just drag on. There are select parts here and there that are truly engaging, such as the scene where Francis Gary Powers’ U-2 plane is shot down, as well as the final spy swap, but those masterfully crafted sequences are sandwiched between scenes of two men exchanging law and politic talk and to the average American in 2015 that is hardly what we go to the movies for.

Rating a film like this really gets at me. Do I grade it based off entertainment factor and replay value, or how well it is crafted? Because the film is well directed and expertly acted, and the 1950’s set designs are spot-on. That being said, will I ever watch “Bridge of Spies” again? Probably not, it didn’t stick with me that much (outside Rylance, because once again, wow).

So if you love Hanks and/or Spielberg and want to see them at their Hanks and Spielberg-iest, enjoy period pieces, AND you are able to put up with a lot of talking, then “Bridge of Spies” is for you. I am giving it an overall recommendation, but before I leave you…did I mention Mark Rylance is amazing here?

Critics Rating: 6/10