*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

RUN ALL NIGHT REVIEW

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Sleep All Night, more like.

Liam Neeson does what he does be- . . .

A shame that this talented actor is now reduced to playing the same old tired role.

Two stars for two ageing stars who do their best to put a little Hollywood grit on this overlong, by the numbers action movie.

It wasn’t all bad but it wasn’t all that great either.

I seem to be saying this a lot lately but a lot of the films I’ve seen recently are making the same piddly mistakes.

So what’s it all about? Mobster and hit man Jimmy Conlon (Liam Neeson) has one night to figure out where his loyalties lie: with his estranged son, Mike (Joel Kinnaman), whose life is in danger, or his long time best friend, mob boss Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris), who wants Mike to pay for the death of his own son.

The first 30 minutes didn’t really get things going.

It was the inevitable “build up” with all the schmaltzy back story and predictable bilge before the pow pow, ka boom!

I could feel my eyes wavering at the big hand on my watch.

However, I did like the fact that writer Brad Inglesby tried to do a slightly different spin on Neeson’s tired fighter.

A man truly scraping the bottom of the barrel. Relying on an old reputation and being best friends with the head mafioso just to get scraps.

Neeson certainly does his best to keep things watchable.

Ed Harris was everything you could expect. Menacing, brooding, perfect for the role. I just wish Inglesby had given him some better lines.

Joel Kinnaman actually didn’t do too bad a job. He actually came off a lot less wooden than his disastrous turn as Robocop.

It’s just a shame that his character is so flat.

Boyd Holbrook played the sleazy mob son quite well. I was a little gutted that his character got struck off so early on BUT then there wouldn’t have been much of a film otherwise. (Well, there still wasn’t).

GEEK SIDE NOTE: Holbrook featured alongside Neeson in A Walk Among The Tombstones

Kinnaman’s little relationship with his “boxing protegee” Eric (Devon O’Brien) seemed forced and was a little unnecessary. Desperate to add a dimension to Michael’s character.

If he didn’t have vital evidence, Eric’s character would have been useless.

Kinnaman proved he could do the action scenes and do them well. The sequence in which he evades capture from Holbrook was frantic, tense and riveting.

It was just irritating that he then had to take the back seat for Neeson.

Neeson’s Jimmy tells him not to fight or shoot. Or else he’s no better than him. Great in the sense of feeble parenting. Better late than never. BUT terrible when you’re watching an action thriller!

Martin Ruhe’s cinematography was something else. Brilliantly shot. The cityscape at night was something to behold.

The flicking back and forth across the city was a little disorienting though.

And the “metaphorical” thunderstorm (Well, literal thunderstorm) as Neeson signs his own death warrant was cheesy as hell.

Neeson and Hardy were fantastic together. The scene in which they confront each other in a cafe may have been a desperate stab at Heat but it worked for me.

I wished for a little more of that.

However, we did finally get a little more action as the gruffly gangster must stop his son from being . . . TAKEN! Yeah, I said it.

I thought the fight sequences should be commended. Unlike Taken 2 and 3, we actually get to see Neeson throw a punch and hit someone.

They may have absolutely ridiculous. No kidding. Neeson must have hit every foe with any random object he could find from metal toilet roll dispensers to fiery table legs.

You read that right. Fiery table legs. Neeson and Common (Hell on Wheels) were mano y mano with two sticks of fire.

Stupid but fast and furious.

The car chases were relentless. The first person camera work reminded me of the classic car movies. It had the same nostalgia that I felt when I watched The French Connection for the first time.

Common didn’t too bad as the relentless hitman but then again he didn’t have to say a lot.

What annoyed me was that for every positive, there were a dozen negatives.

The predictable and cliched bickering between Mike and Jimmy was terrible. Typical father/son spattering. At least they were able to bury the hatchet to dispense of some baddies. Take note, Die Hard 5!

It infuriated me that Mike still wouldn’t allow Jimmy in the same room as his family after saving his life several times in one night.

BUT have no fear, it all ends oh so predictably and cornily which killed off any momentum that the film finally seemed to build up.

At it’s best, violent, frantic, a beauty to watch. At it’s worst, hammy, overlong with that fearful question; “Is this all that Neeson is going to do now?”

Taken 4: A Fool? Not quite. Give it a go. It’s not all bad. BUT there are so many better ones out there.

2/5