*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 GUNMAN REVIEW

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Sean Penn doesn’t do many films but when he does . . .

They’re pretty damn boring.

So what’s it about? A sniper (Sean Penn) on a mercenary assassination team, kills the minister of mines of the Congo. Terrier’s successful kill shot forces him into hiding. Returning to the Congo years later, he becomes the target of a hit squad himself.

That was according to the IMDb. I had no idea what was going on. BUT by the end, I didn’t care.

From the director that brought you Taken . . .

Which one? 1-2-3? Oh, the first one. It should be okay, then. Biggest mistake of my life.

I expected no-nonsense, fist crunching, cars chasing, buildings exploding. ACTION! Not mindless exposition and cliched dialgoue with hammy characters that you couldn’t give two umphs about.

Sean Penn did his best. But his character was so weak and bland. He was the typical generic action hero.

Tortured good guy trying to do the right thing. Smitten with a woman he can’t have. Blah, blah, blah.

I don’t mind being force fed the same old predictable action movie bilge. Nothing’s original. BUT at least try and make it interesting or throw in lots of shiny explosions and high octane punch em ups to make up for it. Is that too much to ask?

Penn looked fit (Not in that way. Steady now). At 54, he proved he could still kick an ass or two. He dealt with the (little) action sequences we had on offer with ease.

I just wish his character didn’t feel like someone pulled out of The Expendables.

The plot was terrible. To make matters worse, it didn’t make any sense. The more they bleated on (and believe me, they did!), the more questions I had.

The opening didn’t really get things going at all. The whole Sky News reporting on The Congo showed potential. Keeping up with the times and building a story around it.

BUT oh how wrong I turned out to be.

The graphic footage and statistics were certainly an eye opener but they were soon pushed into the background for the usual Hollywood guff.

We are had to endure the drudge that was a hammy love triangle between Penn, Jasmine Trinca and Javier Bardem.

Bardem was probably one of the only saving graces. It’s just a shame that he got on my nerves as he went on. His *SPOILER* early departure from the film left a void that was never filled. The void being the rest of the film.

He played the part well as the sleazy operation leader hell bent on stealing Penn’s bird.

That was about as much as I got out of his murderous intent.

Seriously, the plot was that convoluted that it gave me a headache.

BUT don’t worry, it all ends the same way. That’s right. Corny as hell with no real thought or proper explanation. Lovely!

The problem with Bardem’s performance was that it was too manic. He went from a sleazebag to a drunken child within a few scenes. Bad writing. Bad interpretation. Shame.

Speaking of poor performances, Mark Rylance (Wolf Hall). Lordy lord. I couldn’t take him seriously. He sounded constipated. I kid you not. He looked the part. A slick, slimy corporate business type. Until he opened his mouth.

He wasn’t strong enough to be a lead villain. Even Penn didn’t look that convinced by him.

And Idris Elba. What was the point of him? What was his character’s relevance? He smarms his way in for about five minutes spouting some waffle to Penn about not building a treehouse in this garden today.

He chucks him a calling card (accompanied with a cheeky wink) and buggers off!

What a waste of a talented actor. The money must have been good. I mean, was his role cut in the film? To be honest, they missed a trick by not having his presence.

His character was a much needed injection. A bit of mystery. A quirky (if stupid) anecdote. BUT at least it was something.

The Gunman was dull, uninteresting and way too long. And considering it was called the Gunman. Penn didn’t use a lot of guns.

The action sequences were good when they appeared. Frantic, explosive but memorable? Hardly. They became a messy blur by the closing credits.

My main issue was that it seemed to take itself too seriously. The political commentary, the examination on the Congo, the endless “Will they, won’t they?” between Trinca and Penn (when we all knew they bloody would).

AND THEN as the final 30 minutes approached, they realised they had backed themselves into a corner and then desperately went out on an all-out offensive that just came off hammy, laughable and boring.

I mean, the showdown at the bull ring should have been brooding, tense and metaphorical. NOT hysterical.

I felt numb by the end. Deflated and my boredom still very much intact. To make matters worse, I looked to my movie massive (My two mates) and asked; “So why did they want him dead?”

The writer didn’t even make use of Penn’s forced plot device. A revelation that had potential to make this dud so much more.

Hardly spoilierific as it wasn’t explained or executed properly.

Penn’s character is diagnosed with an Alzheimers like disease. He has to record and write everything down. For a moment, I thought Memento meets American Sniper. Okay, let’s do this.

Oh no. Pardon the irony here but it seemed after introducing this newly discovered character flaw, they seemed to forget about it until the final 20 minutes when every time Penn has the chance to dispense some vengeance, what does he do?

He drops to the floor and wails about like’s he having the worst hangover ever!

The whole scorned man with nothing to lose as he’s about to lose the most precious thing of all has been done to death but it still could have offered something.

Not even Ray Winstone could save the day. You know you’re onto a loser when you’re praying for Ray’s messy mercenary to pop back into things.

Sean Penn should have corned him and said, “What are the odds of this film being recommended?”

(In gruffly Winstone voice) Defo worth seeing, san 1000/1.

Place your bets because I’m not.

And to make me laugh even further, I looked into the screenwriters. One of them. Sean Penn. Case closed.

AVOID.

1.5/5