Whenever the great Steven Spielberg takes a seat in the director's chair, audiences worldwide watch intently in hopes of another epic masterpiece. That comes with the territory when you're a two-time Academy Award winning filmmaker. But even though Spielberg has cemented his legacy with classics like Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T., it's unreasonable to confuse his latest winning effort, Bridge of Spies, with these other exceptional films.
After insurance lawyer, James Donovan (Tom Hanks), is handed the undesirable task of defending a newly arrested Soviet spy (Mark Rylance) during the height of the Cold War, his dedication to The Constitution and his belief that his client deserves a fair trial turn Donovan into a social target. But when an American pilot is shot down and captured by Soviet forces, Donovan must venture to Europe and negotiate an exchange of prisoners between these two enemies. With an entire nation relying on his efforts, Donovan must put his greatest bargaining skills to the test.
There are plenty of highlights surrounding Steven Spielberg's finest motion picture in over a decade, but perhaps none shine brighter than a terrific collaborative screenplay from Mark Charman and the Coen brothers. Their charming and witty dialogue form the foundation for this Oscar destined feature. And who better to bring these words to life then the greatest living actor, Tom Hanks? The two-time Academy Award winning actor shows he still has the skills to compete with the best as he nails the performance and makes a strong case for contending in the wide-open Best Actor race. But despite the massive amount of screen time devoted to Hanks' James Donovan character, supporting star Mark Rylance does an outstanding job of standing toe to toe with his highly regarded counterpart. Rylance's exceptional turn as a detained Soviet spy becomes so memorable that he feels like a safe bet in the Supporting Actor competition. Bridge of Spies also benefits from sound direction at the hands of Steven Spielberg, leaving the film as another all-around solid effort from the legendary director.
Although engaging dialogue and impressive performances sustain Bridge of Spies, the feature also suffers in a few notable areas. The intriguing true story being examined is actually quite simplistic. However, in typical Spielberg fashion, he finds a way to out-stretch the series of events into an unnecessary two hour and twenty minute affair. By the closing moments you'll be begging for the credits to roll and it's an unfortunate reality. In addition, after a gripping opening sequence that works perfectly on all levels, the film finds itself completely fixated on Tom Hanks and his character, James Donovan. Consequently, all of the difficult circumstances surrounding the captured U.S. pilot are blatantly overlooked and make it extremely difficult for the audience to forge a connection when these time-sensitive negotiations begin. Clearly these blemishes prevent Bridge of Spies from being an instant classic, yet the film still manages to do a stellar job of entertaining the viewer.
In what has become a recurring theme with 2016's lackluster collection of releases, Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies culminates as another good, but certainly not great, title. The film is worthy of a viewing for its Oscar-caliber performances from Hanks and Rylance, but just make sure to temper your expectations.