Movie making is both an art and a craft.
It all starts with the story and the script. For “Bridge of Spies” the script was written by Matt Charman, Ethan and Joel Coen. The Coen brothers are, of course, accomplished movie makers in their own right. This script was assembled with perfection. It was laced with drama, tension, affection, wry humor and paced so that the movie never slowed or paused. There were no “stop points” to allow the audience to lose track or interest.
The craft of movie making includes all of the other production services. The cinematography in low light was crisp and in daylight subdued to match the mood of the film. Careful Lighting Design has be crafted to not only light the subject but to avoid unattractive shadows as well. But in this film shadows and highlights were masterfully used to help tell the story. There is one spectacular scene that was dramatically lit with the spy Colonel Abel sitting at a table in a small, sparse, and barren prison conference room with his attorney James Donovan played by Tom Hanks. Abel is lit and his lawyer is standing in the foreground at almost 90% unlit. There was light enough to see some detail but the character was mostly dark as he contemplates his next move standing still deep in thought.
Set and art design craft on a film can recreate the world that the story lives in. And in this case it is the late fifties and early sixties of the previous century. From antique cars to storefronts to little set pieces on table tops, nothing was out of place and everything was in place for a reason. It creates an atmosphere of authenticity which further enforces the validity of the time frame of the story.
Acting…if Tom Hanks does not at least get a nomination let alone the academy award for this film, there is no justice. His intonation of words within sentences, the timing of his delivery in sentences, his movements, his expressions…spot on. In as many films as we have seen Tom Hanks there is a possibility that his characterizations from other films might taint a performance. Not in this case. His performance was damn near perfect. A range of emotions was written all over his face, his body and his words.
Mark Rylance who portrayed Rudolph Abel should share the Academy Award with Tom Hanks. He is so controlled and convincing, he even looks like the original Rudolph Abel, you think you are watching the original Rudolph Abel come to life on the screen. His mannerisms, ticks, and sometimes emotionless delivery of lines demonstrate his preparation and professional approach to the part. His performance on screen, flawless…just a masterful job by Mark Rylance.
Direction…I have followed Steven Spielberg ever since I saw his first film that was broadcast by ABC-TV, the television network I worked for at the time. That first commercial television movie was called, “Duel.” The movie was a nearly dialogue free film about an ordinary man, Dennis Weaver, who is chased and stalked on the road by a gasoline tanker truck driven by an unseen protagonist. That movie was broadcast in 1971 as an ABC-TV Movie of the Week. When I saw the way it was shot and edited I knew that there was something different something special about the way this movie was put together. And my feeling about Steven Spielberg as the preeminent film director of our time has only increased over the years with movies like “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “E.T.,” “Empire of the Sun,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Munich,” “Jurassic Park,” “Schindler’s List,” and on and on. Hell, I even loved “1941” which didn’t exactly receive rave reviews.
With “Bridge of Spies” I think he has made a perfectly crafted and directed film. His camera movement was intuitive, his direction of the edit was precise and brilliant, his movement and control of the human factor you see on screen was unobtrusive but there, and his blend of sound design for the film filled in and accompanied any emotion we see on the screen. It is true that he had true professionals who performed the Art Design, Stage Design, Editing, Sound Design, Continuity, and all Production Craft Services. But someone has to step onto the set or post-production suite every morning on stage or on location and give instructions and directions and suggestions as to what should happen next. And that is the job of the Director. Again nomination for Academy Award and the win in the Best Director category to me would seem appropriate.
As an example how perfectly directed and edited “Bridge of Spies” turned out I want to describe one Match Cut between two scenes that was flawless. During a trial scene the audience sees a wide shot of the court room from the rear of that room and as the judge enters we hear the bailiff off mic shout clearly, “All Rise.” CUT, medium shot of a classroom of 10 year old children immediately standing up next to their desks and immediately thereafter recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
Following the Pledge of Allegiance in that scene, we see quick shots from the live-action and animated government short produced during that period, “Duck and Cover,” describing what to do in case of nuclear attack. For me sitting in that movie theater this morning, that class room scene following the match cut was constructed and replayed in my mind as a flash back. I remember quite clearly being in Highlands Elementary School in Prairie Village, Kansas during that time and watching that exact film, seeing the frightened reaction of my young class mates.
Steven Spielberg said in an interview that I saw just yesterday about growing up during those times and experiencing the fear of a Cold War that could at any moment turn into a nuclear attack on the United States. He remembered those practice duck and cover drills as clearly as I do. And that is not surprising for me since Steven Spielberg and I are contemporaries. He was born December 18, 1946 and I was born December 3, 1946, we both remember the palpable fear of those Cold War times.
Throughout our lives there are some movies that we remember clearly and some of those films have a lasting effect on us. For me it is movies like the Italian postwar film by Vittoria De Sica “The Children are Watching Us” or Robert Flaherty’s “Nanook of the North” or “Lawrence of Arabia” or “2001” or “Life of Pi” or ANY of Steven Spielberg films. “Bridge of Spies” is a film that has left a deep impression for all of the reasons I just outlined in this review.
Did I like this film, yeah…I loved this film. I am going to see it again in the theater and as soon as it is available online I am going to purchase it as well.
Very simply, don’t miss this film. It runs 141 minutes but seemed to run must faster.
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