With one of the best track records ever, this year marks Steven Spielberg's return to directing for his latest picture, Cold War-thriller Bridge of Spies, 3 years since his last film, political drama Lincoln. However, just how well does the renowned director's latest project fare and just how good a film is it?

The answer to the posed question above is that Bridge of Spies is a good film, but, unfortunately, it's only just that: good. However, that's not a bad thing. This a compelling and engaging film but, in the hands of such a tour de force director, it feels rather underwhelming and you can't help but feel a lingering sense of disappointment that the film didn't live up to its potential; especially if, like in my case, this was one of your most anticipated films of the Fall. Switching from a World War 2 setting to that of the Cold War, there's echoes of one of Spielberg's earlier war dramas, 1993's acclaimed Schindler's List, within this picture. Although, where that film has gone on to be revolutionary and iconic and multi-Oscar winning, the same can't be said for Bridge of Spies.
It does open brilliantly, however, following Soviet Union spy Rudolf Able (Mark Rylance) as he's pursued by federal agents. En route to receive a secret message, hidden within a coin, under a park bench, all whilst being followed, this scene is breathtakingly entertaining and shows Spielberg's directing work at its finest in a dialogue-free, visually driven sequence. The grey, murky tone and look fits the moody, bleak atmosphere and feel of the film and it's visually stunning. The music and the editing and the actions and the attention to detail fills the absence of dialogue and is just as effective in informing the audience of what's going on, profound and tense. It captures and showcases everything that's great about this film in one scene: the meticulous directing, stunning visuals and powerful acting.

Unfortunately though, whilst incredibly well-made, Bridge of Spies fails to maintain the momentum of this first scene as the premise unfolds. Arrested and sentenced to execution, Abel is appointed an attorney - insurance lawyer James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks). Doubtful at first, Donovan reluctantly agrees to represent Abel and fights hard for this case to make sure his client gets a fair shot and gets imprisoned rather than sentenced to death. However, when two U.S citizens get arrested abroad, Donovan has to head to Berlin and use his negotiating skills to ensure the safety and freedom of both the prisoners on both sides of this war. The premise is certainly promising, especially since the screenplay is written by the notorious Coen Brothers (and newcomer Matt Charman), but it just doesn't fare well.

An argument can be made that putting such hope into any project is a little unfair. However, with such a script, in the hands of such of a director, and such acclaimed leads, the expectations are bound to be - and, quite frankly, should be - fairly high so anything less than brilliance is a tad disappointing. But, the main problem with Bridge of Spies is that the plot just over-complicates itself too much, and with the multiple themes and narratives going on, things get fairly convoluted as the film progresses. Because of this, it's hard to follow along and hard to get as invested into this story and these characters; also making the film start to drag and feel rather tedious towards the latter stage. At times, this is part-courtroom drama whilst it's an espionage thriller at others but the two don't blend together nicely and it gives the proceedings a rather messy, incoherent feel which easily could have been avoided had the film's screenplay been tweaked and polished up a little more.
Other than that though, Bridge of Spies is an accomplished feature of fine craftsmanship, with Spielberg's direction flawless. There's a real grittiness to the film, through the look and the style but through the direction and the dialogue too. Of course, being a political drama, there's a nice sense of realism to the proceedings too. The visual experience is awe-inspiring; resounding cinematography and directing of high quality and finesse give a real crisp, polished and subtly stylish vibe. This is a sublime film too and, whilst the script is too jammed with lots of ideas, the dialogue is witty and intelligent and wonderful - as expected from Joel and Ethan Coen. And, needless to say, the acting is of top quality too. Tom Hanks is, as always, on the top of game and a real delight to watch as a challenged lawyer, brining lots of charisma and nuance to the character. Mark Rylance is the standout though, matching Hanks blow for blow and really diving down to the knit-and-grit of Abel.

The result, in the end, is a political thriller that is exceptionally well-made, beautifully directed and masterfully acted, if all a bit too convoluted and messy for its own good. The premise and characters are intriguing and it's a compelling look at the more sublime battles that went on during the Cold War. This is an intense, intimate and thrilling drama but one that doesn't hold up alongside some of Spileberg's other helmed films and one that won't have much of a profound impact after the credits roll. It's entertaining, for what it's worth, but due to everything Bridge of Spies had going for it, you can't help but feel that this film is underwhelming and disappointing and doesn't live up to its potential.

Steven Spielberg's craftsmanship and directing finesse is as triumphant as ever in the meticulous and stylish Bridge of Spies: a dark, compelling and polished up piece of cinema - unfortunately, it's only just that.

About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

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