Wednesday, November 11, 2015
If I had to describe BRIDGE OF SPIES in two words they would be “too long.”
Technically, the picture is a stunning achievement. But hey, it’s Spielberg. You figure you’re not going to see boom shadows. And there is a precision that permeates every frame. His eye misses nothing. Every shadow, every prop is painstakingly placed. I could see him spending half a day adjusting the rolled up aluminum foil on the TV dinners.
There’s a great sequence where we see the Berlin Wall being constructed and the heartbreak of East Berliners trying to flee to the West.
And Spielberg always gets excellent acting performances. It doesn’t hurt that he can attract talent like Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance, but still -- he gets the most out of them. I’m sure MOMMIE DEAREST wouldn’t be such a joke if Spielberg had directed Faye Dunaway.
But BRIDGE OF SPIES is not exactly a “thriller.” It’s more of a “Hmmm, that’s kinda interesting.” Spielberg introduces us to an admirable protagonist, an intriguing true event, and the theme of upholding American principles in the face of warfare reverberates today. But there’s hardly any suspense.
And even that would be okay if the movie wasn’t almost two-and-a-half hours. I knew the premise. A U.S. citizen has to negotiate a spy trade with the Russians. But I just sort of assumed that was the tip of the iceberg and would lead our hero down a rabbit hole to a terrifying world of complications, espionage, betrayals, heart-pounding sequences, and borscht. No. It’s just the negotiation. And those of us of a certain age or studied history know the outcome.
Bottom line: I love that time period. I’m a total ‘60s-phile. And I was checking my watch an hour in. You don’t need 2:21 to tell that story. And the fact that it was that long suggests “Oscar Grab.” (The glossy color program they were distributing at the screening suggests that also.) When every frame of Spielberg’s film is carefully calculated, it’s not a stretch to think that wasn't part of his thinking too.
And Spielberg is not alone in this. Films with complex themes made for grown ups are traditionally released during Oscar season.
Someone cynical might even say that Academy Awards are the ONLY reason studios greenlight such mature fare. But I of course am not one of these cynics. It’s purely a coincidence that any movie not starring a guy who can fly comes out in the fall.
BRIDGE OF SPIES is worth seeing. But a more entertaining movie on the time period might be ONE, TWO, THREE.
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM