*NEW* BRIDGE OF SPIES REVIEW *NEW*

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I spy a cracking little drama.

You can always bank on Hanks (Had to be careful typing that)

During the Cold War, an American lawyer (Tom Hanks) is recruited to defend an arrested Soviet spy (Mark Rylance) in court, and then help the CIA facilitate an exchange of the spy for the Soviet captured American U2 spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell).

After a somewhat slow opener with a French Connection style stake out with a group of CIA agents following Rylance’s Rudolf Abel, I wasn’t sure what to expect. BUT as we delved into a reasonably dull and mundane day of reconnaissance with an old man painting a bridge, I realized there was more than meets the eye.

If anything, that opening sequence indicated perfectly what to expect. A slow burning thriller with a rewarding pay-off. This was a return to form for Spielberg. Perhaps it helped that he had a winning talisman in Hanks.

Hanks proved once again why he is one of the best. A powerhouse performance. I can’t believe this was a true story. A reluctant lawyer takes on a case that would change everything. Anxious to deal with the heated Cold War paranoia and the shark infested media BUT determined to give a government traitor his right to a fair trial.

Mark Rylance (Wolf Hall) was superb as Abel. If anything, there wasn’t enough of him. He had a great rapport with Hanks and they made a great duo. Donovan’s fascination with Abel sets the wheels in motion for a bigger play. He couldn’t believe how this man, who was one of the most hated people in the country, was only concerned about having some time to paint?

Donovan even asks: “Aren’t you worried?” Without the bat of an eye, Abel simply says “Would it help?”. A great one liner and cracking delivery.

This felt like a film of two halves. For the first act, we watched the press slander, the authorities hinder and the community shun Donovan for simply doing his job. While that was being played out, I wondered where this training subplot involving Austin Stowell’s (Whiplash) pilot Francis Gary Powers was going. It was intriguing as the pilot was assigned a top secret mission BUT it felt a little disjointed to Donovan and Abel’s case.

However, all would be revealed and a suspenseful second half was soon on the cards. With Powers captured, Donovan must trade Abel for his release. Once Donovan arrived in Berlin, I was hooked. The tension. The cryptic conversations with the Russian Embassy. The bartering with the meddling Germans desperate to get their piece of the action as they take their own prisoner, an American economics student. Sebastian Koch (The Lives of Others) was brilliant as the stubborn Wolfgang Vogel.

I couldn’t believe that Donovan went through all this. No support or backing. An “unsanctioned” operation being the CIA’s defense if things go wrong. The game of cat and mouse heading to an exciting and incredibly tense stand off.

That’s not to say the film was perfect. The stellar supporting cast featuring Alan Alda (M*A*S*H) and Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone) were neglected with very minor roles BUT they were always going to play second fiddle to Hanks. The pace did drop in parts and 142 minutes might have been pushing it BUT I was still engaged.

Nitpicking aside, this was a brilliantly acted and well crafted spy thriller and one of my top films of 2015.

4/5

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THE LONGEST RIDE REVIEW

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It really was the longest ride.

Easygoing enough but memorable? Another Nicholas Sparks adaptation hits the silver screen and it’s everything you could expect.

Schmaltzy, cliched, predictable and far too bloomin’ long!

After an automobile crash, the lives of a young couple intertwine with a much older man (Alan Alda), as he reflects back on a past love.

As you might not have gathered, these sort of films are not my cup of tea. They will always be corny and cringe-inducing BUT I’m happy to keep my thoughts to myself if the characters are interesting enough. Or the story.

Okay, the characters were not that interesting. Or the story. BUT the cast played their parts very well.

Scott Eastwood (Yes, the son of the legend of all legends Clint Eastwood) will soon be in the scopes of young teen girls everywhere. And for the lads . . . Britt Robertson.

I’m kidding. I was happy to see Robertson take on a leading role. She even managed NOT to annoy the hell out of me. Her turn in Tomorrowland left me anxious. I didn’t think she would be strong enough. BUT she excelled in this. All aided by some cracking chemistry with Eastwood.

I cannot believe how much he looks like his old man in his hey day. Crazy.

Robertson and Eastwood did their best with the ambitious career-minded college girl meets rugged daredevil rodeo cowboy love story. It really is as predictable as you could imagine. Not to say there weren’t moments to be enjoyed. When the leads were allowed to break free from the bland rom drom checklist, they were brilliant.

BUT their romance was always going to play second fiddle to the other (and slightly more interesting) love story of Ira and Ruth. A car crash and one befuddled (and incredibly old) Alan Alda later and we are thrust back to the 1940s.

Alan Alda (M*A*S*H) was brilliant. Bringing a much needed sincerity to the miserable pensioner Ira. A man who lost his love. It isn’t long before a slow burning but charming journey is set. Robertson begins to read all the letters that Ira wrote to his wife over the years.

Jack Huston (Boardwalk Empire) and Oona Chaplin (Game of Thrones) were fantastic together. Chaplin played the vibrant and passionate Ruth to perfection. The woman that would change the life of a shy store clerk for the rest of his life. Aww. Yuck.

Their story was hardly groundbreaking but we see their initial introduction and their blossoming romance. We laugh at their highs and get a little teary eyed at their lows (If you’re into that sort of thing). The pair do endure some struggles along the way which made for some interesting moments.

BUT it never really hit the heights I expected nor was it as dramatic as I hoped BUT the will-they-won’t-they? with Eastwood and Robertson soon became nothing but filler by comparison.

Their relationship ironically hits little snags alongside the retelling of Ira and Ruth’s. A perfect example being when Eastwood’s cowboy is invited to an art gallery. He soon makes his views known with the pretentious admirers. One of them being none other than Jeanie from ER. Ol’ Gloria Reuben. Yes, I’m a ER fan. Make of that what you will.

There wasn’t a bad supporting cast. The soon to be Supergirl Melissa Benoist managed to make a memorable turn as Robertson’s crazy college room mate. BUT more could have been made with Lolita Davidovich as Eastwood’s mother. She seemed too passive and laid back but with a son so stubborn, passivity seems to be the only route.

The problem with these sort of films is that no matter what hardship the couple endures, the result is always the same. I’m not for cynical and miserable endings but to do they have to be so sugary sweet?

The closing minutes were unbelievably corny BUT nicely done. A little side story from the ailing Ira came full circle and made a nice surprise. I will stay as cryptic as possible with that one.

I haven’t read the book and this . . . doesn’t make me want to BUT if you love romantic dramas and easygoing stories than I can think of worse ways to kill a couple of hours.

But unlike the adorable romance of Ira and Ruth, I don’t think this film will stand the tests of time. The cast do their best and have cracking chemistry but we’ve seen it all before.

2.5/5