November 1, 2015

Bridge Of Spies

There's a lot to admire in Bridge of Spies. Spielberg is a master craftsman, and Hanks delivers a strong, distinctive performance, but this isn't really a thriller,  and I was never worried about the outcome of the story. It's more interesting and moving and less exciting and thrilling.

This photo does not show how BRIGHT the outside glow was!
There's a surprising amount of skepticism and paranoia of our secretive government in the films of Steven Spielberg. As a child of the Cold War and as a post-Watergate filmmaker, Close Encounters is not just a wondrous Watch The Skies effects showcase, it's also a government coverup conspiracy thriller. E.T. is full of children and wonder, but also the unnamed spooks who chase E.T. through the woods, then surveil and invade the family home. The warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark (and the beginning of Crystal Skull) in Area 51! And of course Minority Report's view of government oversight into our lives reaches nightmare levels.
Bridge of Spies is a Cold War movie and a Red Scare movie. It would have been easy to wander around the era. That movie would have become a panoramic History of The Cold War, but instead we learn about this complicated chapter of American patriotism, politics, and diplomacy while keeping a tight focus on one story in that era.
It's not novel to say Tom Hanks is a good actor, but he's really terrific in this movie. From the opening scene where we learn what a strong negotiator and persuasive speaker he is, to his saavy assessment of his counterparts, to his relentless stubborness, this is Hanks' most distinctive character in a long time.
Spielberg is a master filmmaker, but three items distacted me. Three items which are clearly intended by Spielberg:

  • Heavenly Glow: many scenes include Janusz Kaminski's trademark overpowering sunlight "blowing out" the windows. The gazy, heavenly style has pervaded Spielberg films since Minority Report - I feel he verged into self-parody in Catch Me If You Can - but it's simply distracting now. The prison interview scenes between Donovan and Abel look like a humidifier is running full blast, misting the characters every minute.
  • Wide Screen Lenses - I am not a camera expert, but when camera lenses are especially "wide", you can view an entire room from wall to wall without turning the camera. In Bridge Of Spies, I repeatedly noticed the lenses were so wide, the entire room was in frame, AND the vertical lines at the edges of the screen were curved with a "fisheye" effect. I should not be thinking about the cinematography!
  • Telling Not Showing - this one is minor, but Spielberg communicates so well with images, I get annoyed when he drives points home with words. Francis Gary Powers and his fellow airmen are briefed by a CIA spook in a motel room. When the spook leaves, the camera pans past the motel's neon sign which fills the whole screen MOTEL. We saw the MOTEL sign through the window earlier, why are you rubbing our faces in it now?
Several times Spielberg uses title cards: BROOKLYN, BERLIN, and so on, that are marginally necessary. If the audience can't tell where we are without a title card, AND they have to know where they are to understand the movie, you're not doing your job!
My Stub Hubby grade: B minus.
(Somerville Theater)