by ALEX CARNEVALE
Bridge of Spies
dir. Steven Spielberg
“Do you never worry?” Joseph Donovan (Tom Hanks) whines to his client Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) as they prepare an attempt at exonerating him of charges that he was a KGB spy working out of a Brooklyn apartment. Bridge of Spies is mostly about Donovan and how it was so important that he defend a guilty man.
Rylance barely gets any screen time at all outside of an early sequence where he is captured by one of the racist cops from The Wire. It is his story, and the story of the actual Russian agents who escalated the development of the atomic bomb, which serves as the only captivating thing in this tedious script by Matt Charman and the Coen Brothers, but director Steven Spielberg is more interested in a kind of silly individual who puts principle above truth.
Hanks’ insurance lawyer is one such person. Even after his client receives a modest sentence of 30 years in jail, he still wants to appeal Abel’s sentence on the basis of an unlawful search. Bridge of Spies even features a scene in the Supreme Court, one that is so boring Spielberg crosscuts with scenes of fighter jets ascending into the air.
Hanks deals with the venom spouted by the police department and general public at his person for defending an English national who transmitted documents from Brooklyn to Moscow. His wife (Amy Ryan) naturally does not support him at all, and the law firm he works at wonders why he is so invested in this grubby, misguided little man.
Rylance is somewhat fun to watch in his rare scenes, but he speaks so langorously that Spielberg has to speed up everything around him just to turn Bridge of Spies into a composition of contrasts in style. He is arguing, here at length and for no discernible reason, that was all the Cold War was.
In reality, Abel was a terrible agent for the KGB and he was a disappointment in managing his major subordinate, an alcoholic who was eventually turned by the FBI. Bridge of Spies is not terribly concerned with the truth of that story, either. Hanks gets all the screen time, and I have to admit he looks fantastic for his age. Bridge of Spies never shows him outside of his suit, for obvious reasons.
The fighter jet that takes off unceremoniously crashes to Earth about an hour into Bridge of Spies. The pilot ejects long before that, and Spielberg takes us to Abel painting in prison. (The entire point of the subplot is to explain why we gave Abel back to the Soviets in a prisoner exchange.) While he was in an Atlanta prison, Abel mostly did portraits and still lifes; he hated expressionism. Watching Abel meticulously go over his own face is about as exciting as Bridge of Spies gets.
The rest of this sludge is not only incredibly inert, the sheer number of old white people in it truly dulls the mind. Spielberg’s historical forays are now routinely disasters, as his Lincoln was one of the worst movies of that year. He seems to think it is reasonable to make an entire movie based off one idea, no matter how slight, which has garnered his momentary interest. The idea that anyone should pay to see Bridge of Spies is an insult far worse than any managed by the KGB in its history.
Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.
“Into the Garden” – Parquet Courts (mp3)