Bridge of Spies: Hanks, Spielberg & the Coen Brothers Can’t Quite Click in Cold War Drama
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Steven Spielberg’s latest cinematic offering has ome in the form of a surprisingly tensionless and tame courtroom-drama- come-spy-thriller, Bridge of Spies. Written by newcomer Matt Charman and polished by the always-reliable Coen Brothers, the story, although still effective in terms of mood and acting, is not Spielberg’s best thanks to the lack of suspense and overall excitement.
Set in the late 1950s, Bridge of Spies takes place during the height of the Cold War and it begins telling its story with the arrest of a suspected Russian spy named, Rudolf Abel (Rylance) who is placed on public trial. In order to make sure that the US justice system appears to be fair, Abel is appointed defence in the form of a hand-picked insurance-lawyer, James Donovan (Hanks), who hasn’t quite got to grips with what he’s gotten himself into.
While it’s becoming very clear that everyone – including the judge himself – would like to see Abel hang for his crime, Donovan’s idealistic nature compels him to push even harder to ensure that his client receives fair treatment even if it means that his very own reputation as a lawyer could be placed at risk. After a lengthy battle, he manages to keep his client away from the death row, just in time when an U.S military pilot, Frances Gary Powers (Stowell) is shot down over the Russian territory in his U-2 spy plane and placed in Russian custody.
It’s hard not to get excited about a film project which finds one of the most respected and successful filmmakers in Hollywood, Mr. Steven Spielberg, rubbing shoulders with the likes of the Coen Brothers – see No Country for Old Men, Fargo. However, even though the film is still relatively engaging, there is very little meat on its narrow and bony structure to stand alongside either Spielberg’s or the Coens’ past cinematic triumphs.
Luckily, Tom Hanks is there to pick up the pieces and the Oscar-winning actor is once again as reliable as ever, while his Russian client, played by talented British stage actor, Mark Rylance, is quietly brilliant and perhaps one of the strongest aspects of the entire film.
In the end, the two filmic personalities seem to produce a clash of styles; the blend of Spielberg’s old school and grand approach to storytelling and the Coen Brothers’ downplayed quirkiness, results in a rather peculiar mix which doesn’t always sit right. In addition, the importance – and the horrors – sitting behind its Cold War backdrop is illustrated in a rather lazy and stage-like manner, contrasting Spielberg’s typically spot-on detail.