Okay, editors of the list, we get it: you really, really like Steven Spielberg. That pithy dismissal of Bridge of Spies being added to the list was all that went through my head when I found that it had been added, as well as when I went to actually start watching it. I’ve posited the argument before that Spielberg’s films tend to fall into two genres; the feel-good uplifting childlike wonderment type of film that E.T. basically personifies, and the ultra-serious historical epics he does to be seen as a serious director like Lincoln and Schindler’s List. Then there’s the films he makes that seem to want to be both of these two types of Spielberg, such as War Horse, and Bridge of Spies absolutely falls into this latter combo-category. In doing so, however, much like War Horse, the film itself comes across as very perfunctory, an unnecessary watch, and just as unnecessary a production undertaken by the filmmakers.
Bridge of Spies is the story of Jim Donovan, played here by Tom Hanks, an insurance lawyer who is called upon by the U.S. government to be the legal counsel for Rudolf Abel, a Russian citizen in Brooklyn arrested and charged with espionage for the Soviet Union. Knowing the farcical nature of the defense he is meant to put up, Donovan nevertheless does his duty; Abel is still found guilty, but through Donovan’s persistence he is kept from the death penalty in case he may be needed for a future prisoner exchange with the Soviets, should the opportunity arise. Well, the opportunity does, in the form of Gary Powers, a pilot flying a secret surveillance plane shot down in Soviet territory. Donovan, feeling responsible for Abel, is put in charge of the negotiations to secure Powers’ release for Abel’s, which are compounded when Donovan also learns of Frederic Pryor, a U.S. grad student caught on the wrong side of the newly-built Berlin Wall, and Donovan sets out to secure the release of two American prisoners instead of just one. I wanted to go into notable aspects of Bridge of Spies, that could be seen as selling points, but to be honest, the whole thing smears together so well that nothing in particular stands out, with the exception of Mark Rylance, who plays Abel, and who somehow steals the screen every time he’s on it without saying much more than a few words per his even fewer sentences, and who notably won Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars despite no actual campaign run for him to win the award by studios, producers, or Rylance himself. Hanks is typical Hanks, the cinematography, score, and production design are typical Spielberg; this is just really, really typical filmmaking, but since it’s Spielberg, the level of typical is elevated somewhat above what would otherwise be a typical film. It’s good, but nothing about it is so good as to get in a twist about it, which has been my problem with Spielberg’s perennial releases as of late.
I was left feeling mightily okay by Bridge of Spies; it’s a fine picture, with plenty of positive attributes, but when it’s all mixed together, the final combined result is… well, just okay. I went to check this as watched on Letterboxd, and I skimmed some of the other reviews there to see how my opinion fit into the general opinion, and I found one review that so epitomized Bridge of Spies and Spielberg as a filmmaker that I’m going to steal the key phrase the reviewer on that site used to describe both: Spielberg is the ultimate “dad” director, making “dad films”, i.e. films that you can watch with your dad in a family movie night and not have anybody feeling uncomfortable or left unsatisfied at the end. That’s Spielberg in a nutshell, and that’s also Bridge of Spies in a single phrase: it’s the ultimate dad film, or at least the most so that Spielberg has made up to this point. This won’t survive future editions’ culling of the list’s entries, and really, it shouldn’t, but it was nice to watch, I guess, so no real harm done.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10