In Bridge of Spies, Tom Hanks plays an unassuming lawyer that finds himself caught between the United States and Soviet Russia at the height of the Cold War; and the East Germans get in there too, just in case he didn’t have enough to deal with. I liked this movie a whole lot. The cast is perfect right down to the ground; Hanks works his everyman charm to perfection. Of the supporting players, special note should go to Mark Rylance as an unassuming Soviet spy and Scott Shepherd as a slimy CIA agent.
But I think this movie is interesting, coming at this point in Spielberg’s career. Spielberg is never going to give us the kind of movie he made in the seventies and eighties. If you’re being charitable, you’ll say he’s matured; if you’re being uncharitable, you’ll say he’s gotten old. I’ll just say he’s changed. He’s a more meticulous filmmaker now; the ramshackle looseness of a movie like Jaws or Raiders of the Lost Ark aren’t in his nature anymore. But he takes the time to let the story here, which is ultimately incredibly complicated, unfold slowly. But I think this movie coming right on the heels of Lincoln gives us a hint of the meticulous morality of Spielberg the filmmaker in his current form. This film, much like Lincoln, is about the attempt to achieve a moral victory through the red tape and bureaucracy and politics of the real world. In most movies, heroes have to step outside the red tape, outside the system, or find a technicality that will allow them to twist the system in some way. But the methodical Spielberg has a more interesting vision. In the universe of Lincoln and Bridge of Spies, moral victory is achieved by plowing head on into the morass of bureaucratic rules, legal minutae, endless paperwork, frustrating red tape and then beating that morass on its own terms. Moral victory achieved by going right through the middle of the frustrating system? It’s kind of unique, as a philosophical idea in cinema. But for Spielberg, it works and because it works in his stories, it works behind the camera as well, or perhaps vice versa. Spielberg has become a methodical filmmaker and, once you stop expecting his newest movie to be a flashy action film or a popcorn thriller, you’ll end up loving this new mode too.
Alas, there’s an idea that Spielberg simply doesn’t make movies anymore that are as good as his classic work. Well, some of them are just as good, only in ways that are completely different. But Bridge of Spies is a triumph for the current Spielberg. It’s his best film in a good ten years; Munich, his last genuine contender for best of career status, came out in 2005. Bridge of Spies isn’t that good, I don’t think, but it’s a meticulous piece of clockwork, entertaining, suspenseful, thoughtful, well-acted, admirable in its restraint. As it goes, I’ll take it. 4 stars.
tl;dr – meticulous film takes the spy thriller into subdued, thoughtful territory; a great ensemble, a smart script and an unhurried pace make this one into Spielberg’s best in a decade. 4 stars.