Quality: This score indicates entertainment value.
0 stars is horrible, while 5 stars is spectacular.
Political: This score addresses political messaging.
0 stars is aggressively anti-Conservative, while 5 stars is highly pro-Conservative. 3 stars is apolitical.
Moral/Religious (M/R): This score addresses moral and religious messaging.
0 stars is either intensely immoral or all-out, needless assault on Christianity. 5 stars is either great moral messaging or highly pro-Christian. 3 stars is inoffensive either way.
Quality – 2 stars, Political – 1 star, M/R – 4 stars
Depicting insurance lawyer James Donovan (nicely played with low-key distinction by Tom Hanks), Spielberg stylishly recreates the Cold War 1950’s, wherein Donovan defends a Soviet spy and negotiates his trade for a captured American pilot.
The spy was Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance in a superb performance). In real life, Abel was a deeply committed enemy of America, assisting one of history’s most murderous regimes—but you’d never know it from this film. Spielberg’s Abel is a sympathetic character—a good guy of all good guys. And Americans who despised him? Why, they were all close-minded lunatics.
Lest you feel I demand flag-waving patriotism, my real concern (beyond the terribly slow pace) was Spielberg’s lost opportunity. Had he attempted some level of even-handedness, we’d have enjoyed thoughtful treatment of a complex issue; that of balancing American liberties against foreign threats. Alas, “Bridge of Spies” is the opposite of “Dead Man Walking,” the terrific 1995 film on capital punishment. Like a newscast showing only one side, Spielberg’s latest effort leaves us wanting more; more real debate, more ideological tension, more thoughtful conversations afterward.
More reason to look at the screen, not one’s watch.
On one side, Donavan gives a rousing statement in favor of the 4th Amendment, as Abel is shown searched without rights and railroaded by a biased judge. Hanks’s delivery of this speech might well be the movie’s finest moment. Unfortunately, no counterpoint is offered—leaving a boring, painfully predictable storyline.
One wonders what might have been, had Spielberg shown another side. What if we learned the real threats posed by Russian spying, or the disadvantage created by following strict rules when your opponent does not? Facing these issues with today’s terror conflict, Americans would be glued to the screen, wondering how we maintain personal liberty while protecting against its enemies.
Instead, Spielberg opts for a Hollywood sermon, portraying Communist spies as cuddly old men who liked to paint, and the Cold War as a time of baseless paranoia. One would think no real threat existed—seriously.
Performances beyond the two main characters are solid, but unspectacular. Donovan’s wife is supportive yet concerned, his boss and the judge are simplistic anti-Russian antagonists, the pilot (along with an imprisoned economic student thrown into the trade) is a scared kid, the CIA agent assigned to Donovan is an uncaring zealot—like the story itself, none exhibit any depth or struggle with conscience.
Thankfully, there are some humorous moments, and Donovan’s deal-making provides occasional interest. Though you still know how it all plays out, his bluffs and strategies create some doubt as to how.
So I was less bored. Not a lot less, but less. After 2½ hours in that theatre seat, I saw the whole experience as…what else?...a lost opportunity.