For some reason, many in my community have begun to take Steven Spielberg for granted. As a producer, his name is attached to so many television shows that I couldn’t possibly recall them all and so many blockbusters that regular moviegoers likely mix his actual movies up. He is easily the most successful commercial filmmaker of all time. Which is usually an indication of someone that’s a populist and incapable of making serious films that are driven by dialogue.
Anyone who knows Spielberg’s work knows that this couldn’t be anything further from the truth. The same man who brought you ‘Jurassic Park’ also brought you ‘Schindler’s List’. The same man who brought you ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ also brought you ‘Saving Private Ryan’. And, more recently, the same man who brought you ‘War of the Worlds’ also brought you ‘Lincoln’. These are all great movies and couldn’t be more different from one another.
Spielberg is the type of man who can make the passing of the thirteenth amendment just as exciting as watching aliens try to destroy Tom Cruise. He makes the wonder of a boy seeing his horse just as breathtaking as a man seeing a dinosaur in the flesh. Spielberg is likely the most diverse and possibly the best director working today. He reminds us of this with his new thriller, ‘Bridge of Spies’. A movie that would have either been over blown or anticlimactic in lesser hands.
Yet, in the hands of this great auteur, ‘Bridge of Spies’ is a damn near perfect look at the beauty of diplomacy done right and easily one of the best films of the year! It’s a film with almost all dialogue to push it along, but it opens with a completely dialogue free sequence. An irony that should not go unnoticed. This opening is nearly 10 minutes long and the type of expertly staged sequence only Spielberg makes look this easy.
After the brilliant introduction to Russian spy Rudolf Abel (an Academy Award worthy Mark Rylance), we pick up on James Donovan (an equally impressive Tom Hanks) trying to defend insurance law. It’s a perfect juxtaposition to the wordless opening. From this point on, the entire movie is a diplomatic game of words. It’s safe to call the movie a thriller in the general sense, but there are no stabs in the back, intense peril, or some ridiculous mystery that must be put together.
In this film, we watch the American judicial system, the FBI, and the CIA at work. Essentially, we are painted an entire picture of how democracy is preserved properly. This includes providing us knowledge of our own failings. The biggest failing of all being the way the Russian spy is treated guilty by even the judge before the trial and how they all saw the system of justice for him as a smoke screen.
Equally important is the prison exchange that encompasses the second half of the film. This is the part of the show where true diplomacy shines brightest. Ironically, the one thing that saved the Russian spies life (his useful nature as a prisoner to exchange) is the very thing that was used to try and save the lives of two Americans. I won’t tell you what happened (even though you could pretty easily Google it), but I will tell you the outcome is accomplished by expertly crafted diplomacy.
I hope that our current political officials will watch this movie and take a lesson from their past. So many of them seem to think that war or bombings is the only way to solve our differences. I genuinely fear some hawkish presidential candidate getting his or her hands on our military. Combat should be a last case scenario for when all other options fail. The best option is always a proper negotiation. This is something Spielberg understands well. Like ‘Munich’ and ‘Lincoln’ before it, ‘Bridge of Spies’ tells an important historical tale and illuminates our current system. It is another don’t miss from the worlds most accomplished director.
In stores on Tuesday, February 2.