Thursday, November 12, 2015

Bridge of Spies (2015)

The Internet is full of whiners and trolls, but once in a while you meet some truly awesome people. We met guest writer Njabulo Phungula through Instagram of all places (#johnwilliams haha!), but we recognized him as a kindred spirit with a passion for cinema and are proud to call him our friend. Hailing from Durban, South Africa, Njabulo shares his thoughts on Spielberg's latest film "Bridge of Spies."

Let's acknowledge just how versatile Spielberg is. This is the man who brought us The Adventures of Tintin, Jaws, E.T., Schindler's List, and everything in between (both good and bad). After thirty-something feature films, he shows not signs of ageing but of maturity.

Bridge of Spies gives us a glimpse of the Cold War, a time during which paranoia filled the air and tensions were high. Anyone who has some idea of the fear and paranoia that ravaged the people of that time, might have some idea of how this movie's first act is going to play out. James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) is an insurance lawyer who has been appointed to provide 'capable defense' for Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), who has been accused of being a spy for the Russians. Much to the dismay of his superiors, his family, and his country, Donovan takes his duty seriously as he believes in a fair trial for his client despite the seriousness of the alleged crimes.

In the second act, the film moves to East and West Germany and the shift in atmosphere moves us into bleak territory. Spielberg achieves this shift without rocking the proverbial boat. Also, strewn across the many exchanges between our human subjects, is some light humor, so enjoy.

Every technical avenue of this movie is top-tier; cinematography, editing, music, costumes, and sound. What is remarkable though is that Spielberg continues to dazzle us with his remarkable camera moves. I don't think Spielberg receives enough credit for being highly visually literate. He certainly understands drama and how to convey his messages with the camera.

There was another element of this story that really caught me. Rudolf Abel, in one scene, compares Donovan to a man he once knew as a young boy. The 'standing man' as he calls him, would get knocked down and get up every time. There are obvious parallels in the film between this 'standing man' and Donovan but I kept thinking about Spielberg and the never-ending criticism he gets for making 'sentimental' movies. This is an issue that has been brought up for years. Sometimes it works for the movie (E.T., Close Encounters), but other times, not so (War Horse, Always). It is present in this movie, too. Make of that what you will. What is clear to me, that few people can deny, is that Steven Spielberg continues to set himself apart from the rest. He might not necessarily be the greatest film maker there ever was (those are impossible standards) but there's no denying his greatness.

This has been a remarkable year at the movies and Bridge of Spies is up there with the best of them.

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