Bridge of Spies Review: Spielberg Doesn’t Take Sides

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Not all Steven Spielberg films are created equal. Bridge of Spies continues the director’s prolonged shift away from the genre films that built his name to what it is today. It’s been 13 years since Minority Report was released, marking the end of Spielberg’s era of unanimously loved blockbusters. Since then, the visionary has had his sight set on the past, which is where Bridge of Spies comes in. If Munich is the Raiders of the Lost Ark of Spielberg’s historical espionage thrillers, then Spies is The Last Crusade. 

Set at the peak of the Cold War, the film follows James B. Donavan (Tom Hanks), a Brooklyn lawyer asked to defend a caught Soviet spy in court. Hanks plays him with the same warmth you’ve come to expect from the actor as he’s aged. He and Spielberg remain a great team for finding a film’s voice after all these years. While it’s far from the best performance Hanks has ever given, it’s certainly an accessible one, giving the audience someone to identify with, partially thanks to some well-placed humor, as he’s thrown into the convoluted conflict between the US and USSR.

As for the aesthetic, the windows are lit as heavenly as they were in Lincoln, while the same dark filter is used, giving the film a similarly cold feel. It especially makes the snowy split city of Berlin look stunning. This is nothing new for Spielberg, who has dressed many of his post-Jurassic Park in a similar navy/grey garb.

One notable absence is that of John Williams. This is only one of two theatrical films Spielberg has directed that doesn’t have the composer on it, the other being The Color Purple. With Spielberg having gotten so good at his craft, it’s becoming easier to nitpick his work, and Thomas Newman, as good as he is, can’t replace Williams’ ability to match Spielberg’s tone.

Still, Spielberg knows how to make likable characters, stage incredible looking set pieces, and build tension. It’s the same techniques that made everything from Jaws to Lincoln such a success. Bridge of Spies doesn’t get to sit on the throne with the director’s other classics, but it is worthy of the Spielberg name. Grade: B+

By Matt Dougherty

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