Bridge Of Spies, as its oddly literal title suggests, is not a film that errs far from formula. It’s a Cold War thriller about a captured Russian spy (Rylance), a captured American pilot, and an insurance lawyer (Hanks) tasked with mediating their exchange in Berlin. Countless films have exploited the stylistic potential of this era, and this is no exception, with endless, suit-clad middle aged men smoking in fastidiously recreated 1950’s settings.
Sadly, this obsessive streak is also seen in the script itself, which goes to painstaking lengths to accurately reproduce every cliché it can. Emotional moments, such as the ‘Standing Man’ scene featured in the trailer, are barely half-earnt, however hard the score tries, and when, at one point, a judge solemnly informs Hanks that this is a battle of civilisations, damnit, it took effort to stifle laughter.
"the script goes to painstaking lengths to accurately reproduce every cliché it can"
There are occasional inspired touches, a running shot trailing a bicycle along the freshly built Berlin Wall, the crying schoolkids watching a public service broadcast about nuclear attack, but they do little to change the overall sense that this is a story that didn’t really need to be told (again). This feeling manifests itself far clearer later on, when Hanks watches would-be wall climbers brutally gunned down as he rides the U-Bahn. Like a cinematic Gorbachev, Spielberg’s hubristic honesty is his undoing.
Once we see the Berliners dying on the streets below, our apathy suddenly finds a focal point - Why should we care about some mid-level diplomacy, about our hero with his head-cold who just wants to go home? About the lazy half-comic bickering between the CIA agents, or Hanks’ evasive legal wordplays? If you want to get away with a trite half-thriller set in a miniature police state, glasnost may not be the policy for you.
More like this: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011)