OPINION BY ERIC DEUTZ
Considering the expectations for “Bridge of Spies,” it truly is a remarkable feat.
Why all the buzz around Disney’s latest historical drama? Well, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 30 years, I can explain all this hype to you in just two words: Spielberg. Hanks.
For those who have been living under a rock, welcome back, and let me introduce you to one of the most exciting director/actor collaborations of our era.
Director Steven Spielberg and actor Tom Hanks most famously collaborated in “Saving Private Ryan,” arguably the most important war epic of all time. What many may not know is that their relationship actually runs quite a bit deeper than that.
Aside from working as director/actor in “Catch Me if You Can” and “The Terminal,” Spielberg also produced “The Money Pit” and “Joe vs. the Volcano,” two of Tom Hanks’s earliest films, and the two of them co-produced two of the most successful miniseries of the 21st century: “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific.”
And now, they team up once again and surround themselves with a star-studded cast and crew to tell the true story of an insurance lawyer-turned-Cold War hero in “Bridge of Spies.”
In “Bridge of Spies,” Hanks (in a reliably solid and honest performance) plays James Donovan, a New York insurance lawyer who is asked to defend Rudolf Abel (recent Tony winner Mark Rylance), a man convicted of being a Russian spy. (This is 1957, obviously. Our country today is very much over the paranoia of other countries infiltrating our homeland with people who want to kill us. …Right?)
Defending Abel is really just a formality, as the evidence against him is overwhelming. But when Donovan does his job a little too well, Abel isn’t put to death and is instead offered up as trade material for an American POW—a trade that Donovan must conduct himself.
When I say this movie is loaded both in front of and behind the camera, I mean it. Amy Ryan and Alan Alda are along for the ride playing Donovan’s wife and boss. Those are very simple roles for such esteemed actors, but when Steven Spielberg wants you in his movie, I assume the answer is always yes.
Frequent collaborators Janusz Kaminski, a cinematographer, and Michael Kahn, editor, are both back and could each easily pick up yet another Oscar nomination for their gorgeous, subtle and poignant work here. And with music by Thomas Newman, a script co-written by the Coen brothers and production design by Adam Stockhausen, the production crew has between them are you ready for this at least 70 Oscar nominations and 17 Oscar wins. Let me be the first to say… whoa.
When you look at Spielberg’s last few works, ”War Horse,” “Lincoln” and now this film, he seems to be on some sort of “God Bless America” kick. This is perfectly fine, though it does start to show a little bit too prevalently here, especially in the climactic shot as we linger on Tom Hanks standing proudly in front of an American flag, knowing he’s just won the day for himself and his nation.
Oh, sorry, is that a spoiler? Well, not really. Because just like everything else in this movie, it’s exactly what you’d expect. There isn’t a single surprise. Normally, for a movie, that’s a very bad thing. But when all the pieces assembled are truly the very best in the business, doing what they do best, well, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.