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Friday, March 25, 2016

BRIDGE OF SPIES (2015)

Square and old-fashioned, effectively so, Steven Spielberg tries the Cold War on for size and finds, of all things, heroic U.S. Constitutionality personified by legal insurance specialist James B. Donovan. Played by Tom Hanks, in likable everyman mode, he’s assigned to defend Mark Rylance’s Soviet spy, annoying half the country by insisting on all rights for the accused foreign agent. Reviled by many, he proves uniquely useful when the Berlin Wall goes up, leaving two Americans (a spy pilot & a student) on the far side of the Iron Curtain, sudden candidates for a prisoner exchange with Hanks' erstwhile client. And who could be better positioned to facilitate the tricky swap? But what should be a riveting suspense tale, proves a little anodyne in the telling, straightforward & smooth textured, like some putative YA novel by John Le CarrĂ©* that's been lightly seasoned with unconvincing comic beats. (The result of a Joel & Ethan Coen script polish?) Even the usually impeccable Spielberg eye for composition goes a bit flat here, as if he remained unconvinced. The film has its heart in all the right places, but more as Civics Lesson than as drama.

DOUBLE-BILL: *John Le CarrĂ©'s SMILEY’S PEOPLE/’82, the underrated follow-up to the superb Alec Guinness mini-series TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY/’79, also climaxes on a Bridge of Spies. But for a unique look at Cold War paranoia & absurdity, Billy Wilder’s coarsely comic, scattershot farce, ONE, TWO, THREE/’61 (made as the Berlin Wall was rising) takes some beating.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: With John Williams unavailable, Spielberg turned to Thomas Newman for his film score. It shows.

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