Saturday, October 17, 2015

Bridge of Spies Review

We're getting really close to the time where Marty McFly arrives into the future. In that fictionalized version of the future from Back to the Future Part II, Marty looks up at the cinema and sees advertised that the top movie of the week is Jaws 19. While the Jaws franchise didn't quite make it to that many sequels (they stopped after the atrocious fourth chapter, Jaws: The Revenge), the writers of Back to the Future Part II were onto something with their choice of movie. The original Jaws movie was directed by the legendary Steven Spielberg and now the man is back this weekend with Bridge of Spies. Although Bridge of Spies won't be the top movie of the weekend (early reports are that this honor will belong to Goosebumps), it will definitely be heavily advertised at theaters this upcoming Wednesday, October 21st, the day that Marty McFly arrives. Marty may be confused on what the heck Goosebumps is or who in the heck this Guillermo Del Toro dude is with his newly directed Crimson Peak. But he'll definitely be able to recognize Steven Spielberg. If he had time to relax and he wanted to go to a movie, I'm sure that the Spielberg name-brand recognition would cause him to see this movie. And I think he'd enjoy himself.

"Directed by Steven Spielberg" is all I needed to be intrigued by this movie. While his record isn't flawless (I personally wasn't a fan of War Horse or A.I.), he's typically pretty good at bringing excellent films to the table. When he's doing a historical movie and the big name star is Tom Hanks, that makes things even more intriguing. Specifically, this movie is a Cold War drama. If I'm being honest, I don't know a whole lot about the Cold War. I mean, I know the basics, but not a whole lot of details, so I was excited to dive into this and see what Spielberg had to teach me. I'll let you learn a lot of the details yourself rather than telling you much of the plot, but basically we follow a man by the name of James Donovan. You may know this guy's story. I didn't. If you are like me and you don't know who this guy is, he's the defense lawyer of Rudolf Abel, a Russian spy that the United States captured. Everyone in America is wanting this guy to be killed immediately because he is a Russian spy here in the United States. Who cares about due process or a fair trial, right? James Donovan, who is played by Tom Hanks, has a few other ideas. What about the constitution? Doesn't everyone deserve a fair trial? In the meantime, while we're being all upset about what Russia is doing and we want to immediately kill their spy, our government is doing the same exact thing. We send spies over to Russia. And guess what? One of them gets captured. Thus we dive into some really interesting themes.

Like I said, I didn't know much about the Cold War, but the whole thing essentially revolves around Nuclear weapons. Russia thinks we have Nuclear weapons and are going to attack them at any time. Thus they send spies over to the United States to figure out what we are up to. At the same time, we think Russia has Nuclear weapons and are going to attack us at the same time. So we also send spies over to Russia to figure out what they are up to. Is this fair? Do we justify this under the name of war and call it okay? Because honestly a lot of this seems really shady. I mean, all the Americans in this movie were whining and complaining that Donovan is vouching for this Russian spy to get a fair trial, but do yet they don't bat an eye at the fact that our government is sending guys on secret missions that "don't exist"? We're sitting here at home hoping that the Russians treat our guy with love and respect, but we want to send their guy to the electric chair immediately and we're going to vandalize James Donovan's home because he is standing up for the Constitution? Bridge of Spies isn't a movie that is taking a side on who is right and who is wrong. It's not a movie with a political agenda. It's just showing some of the honest truth of what happened at this time. Personally I'm also not taking a stance. I'm not saying that the United States was full of a bunch of idiots. I just thought this whole thing was really intriguing and thus the movie captivated me.

I will admit, though, that this is a movie that you have to be patient with. Yes, there are several really intense scenes scattered throughout that have you on the edge of your seat, but for the most part this is a very action-less movie. If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense that the movie would be this way. This isn't the Revolutionary War. It isn't the Civil War. It isn't one of the World Wars. This the Cold War. Much of the movie takes place in court rooms or in people's houses as the trial is discussed. Then we have conversations in offices discussing secret plans and having secret conversations that "don't exist." Then there are a whole heck of a lot of negotiations and other things like this where it's just people talking to other people figuring out what is to be done. There's also two very distinct halves to this movie. The first half is the court scenes like I mentioned and the drama following the Cold War. I'm not going to tell you what the second half is about, but it's certainly not action packed. Talking, talking, talking, talking. Not much doing. Thus I can definitely understand people going to this movie and getting bored with it, especially since it's 141 minutes long. There's also been people that, despite liking it, admitted that the second half is a lot more boring than the first. I'm not going to dispute that. The second half isn't as good as the first half. But it didn't kill the movie. Like I said, you have to be patient with the movie and if you are, you can take a lot from it.

I suppose the whole take away from what I'm saying is that you need to know what you are getting yourself into when you go watch this movie. There's a lot of biopics and historical dramas out there that are very effective at telling stories and presenting themes without being fast-paced or being filled with a ton of action. This is one of those movies. It's slow. It's long. It's not that intense of a movie. But yet I wasn't bored. I was really taken by all of the characters on both sides of the spectrum. I enjoyed the historical aspect of it. I don't think this is a movie that's intended on telling the whole story of the Cold War, just one specific story line during the Cold War. But I found it fascinating. Spielberg really put a lot of effort into very carefully crafting a really genius movie that you can learn a lot from and apply, not just to the past, but also the present as a lot of the themes in this movie apply to situations going on today, not just the Cold War. Just don't go into this movie expecting a ton of action or a lot of thrills. If you don't like historical dramas or biopics that take their time to slowly tell an interesting story with a lot of deep themes, then don't see this movie. It probably won't be for you. But if you do like biopics and you do love historical dramas, then this is your style of movie.

Now let's spend a moment with Oscar talk. A Spielberg-directed historical drama is huge Oscar bait and I have almost no doubt that this movie is getting a ton of Oscar nominations. I'm thinking best picture, best director, best actor, best supporting actor, best screenplay. All of that jazz. If it doesn't, quite frankly I'm going to be shocked. But am I going to be cheering this on? Probably not. And I don't mean that in a terrible, mean way. If it wins these things, I will be fine. I just personally think that it's not the best picture of the year, thus a best picture win would be a little much for me. A nomination? Absolutely. Very deserving. But being nominated is good enough in my opinion. And same goes for the acting. Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance are the two big acting names getting Oscar buzz following this movie. Both of them do a great job. Tom Hanks always seems to give his all when he's doing a movie and this is no different. He is fantastic in this. But I don't think his performance is deserving of an Oscar win. It's not one of the best of his career. If we look back at his top 5 performances that he's given in his career, this probably isn't a movie that we will feel the need to mention. Will I be upset if he wins? Absolutely not. A nomination is good enough. And even if he doesn't get that nomination, I won't lose to much sleep. Same thing guys for Mark Rylance as our Russian spy. He was really good in the movie. He was also surprisingly funny. But I don't think he gave an Oscar-winning performance. I'm just going to say all that right now because I know these conversations will be had in the not to distant future.

All in all, Spielberg has yet again shown why he is one of the most popular directors in Hollywood right now, if not the most popular director. The man has been making excellent films. I talked about Jaws in the beginning of this review. Jaws was 1975. That was 40 years ago. And that wasn't even his first movie. But in those 40 years, he has consistently put out classic after classic. He followed Jaws with Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Not to long after he started the Indiana Jones trilogy. Then there's E.T. Then in the 90's he did Hook, Jurassic Park, Schindler's List, and Saving Private Ryan. In the current century, he's put out Minority Report, Catch Me if You Can, and Lincoln. This isn't even counting all the movies he helped write and/or produced. These are just a few great examples of his directing. The man is a movie genius and I think all of you knew that. Bridge of Spies is no Jurassic Park or Saving Private Ryan in terms of the intensity level. If you are looking for that when you go into this movie, you might be disappointed, because this is a slow-moving historical drama. Thus a better comparison might be Lincoln, which was also fairly recent. I think it's safe to say that if you loved Lincoln, then you should see Bridge of Spies. Or if you just want to see a Spielberg movie in theaters, then you should go see a Spielberg movie in theaters. I really loved this movie and I think you will too. I'm going to give Bridge of Spies a 9/10.

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