Sunday, November 8, 2015

Hanks Watch: Bridge of Spies (2015)

Normally when I want to get out to see a movie like this, work and life get in the way, and I never get around to making time to see them.  Ask me about any Oscar-nominated film of the past ten years and I'll give you a blank stare, because getting out to see a grown-up type movie during the months of November and December is usually not in the cards if I also want to catch superheroes and whatnot.

But, as we were leaving Bond the other night, SimonUK, Jamie and I decided to catch Bridge of Spies (2015) on Saturday morning.

Yes, it's Spielberg, and yes, I know you feel very clever pointing out that Spielberg is emotionally manipulative.  Well, kids, that's sort of the point of telling a story and making a movie, so, kudos to you for noticing that Spielberg is pretty effective at making you feel something other than generating a modest chuckle.

I am utterly unfamiliar with the real-life story upon which the movie is based.  Outside of hearing once that a U2 was shot down over Soviet airspace, I have no recollection of anything else which occurs in the movie, and - you know, one day I will, and I'm sure the movie will have gotten it wrong.  In the meantime, it's a pretty solid screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen (yeah, who knew?), about an attorney who takes up the challenge of defending a Soviet spy at the height of the Cold War.

Not just because the movie instructs me to agree with Hanks' character's insistence on providing a good defense for his client, but I'm pretty sentimental about the best intentions of our legal system, even when on a minute-by-minute basis, it seems we can't actually deliver on that promise for our own citizens.  But, in a war of ideologies, remaining fervently true to the intentions of a sound legal system in which a trial means lawyers going to bat with sound legal reasoning and working with the rule of law... yeah, I support that.  And I'm reminded of John Adams' defense of the British soldiers of the Boston Massacre.

Despite threat to his professional life, the safety of his family and drawing the ire of the American public (and not agreeing to play ball with the CIA), attorney Jim Donovan puts up a sound defense of his client.

The second half of the film deals with an exchange as the Soviets get their hands on the aforementioned downed U2 pilot.

There's a certain kind of casting and G-Man that you get in a Spielberg movie, and this one seems to fall right in there.  The G-Men are always one step behind our hero, quick and efficient, but never the abstract thinkers.

Amy Ryan shows up as Donovan's wife who really, really doesn't want to be dealing with the fallout from defending a spy.  And Jesse Plemmons appears as a U2 pilot (not the U2 pilot).   And actor Mark Rylance plays the semi-sympathetic Soviet spy, a guy doing a job - and something the movie makes abundantly clear we were asking our own people to do as well.  Oh, and Hanks is better than I thought he was in the really weirdly problematic but oddly popular Captain Phillips.

I wonder what the younger audience that has lived with the wars in the Middle East, but not the Cold War, thinks of this movie.  The script speaks in shorthand about the historical relevant issues, and the division of Berlin must feel like science fiction 25 years after the wall came down.  Let alone the stalemate of two nations who really, really did not like each other, but who were unable to do much about it lest they scorch the Earth, unburdening the planet of all living matter.

The movie is nearly Capra-esque in its championing of sticking by your principles, and that's okay.  When the anti-hero is the only protagonist that anyone understands, sometimes you need Mr. Smith going to Washington or even Gary Cooper at high noon.  Whether the message of not breaking the legal system we say we live by as Americans even during times of stress or fear resonates in the slightest with America in 2015, I have my doubts.  The past 15 years have not been a great time for us to prove our mettle in this regard.

The movie is surprisingly tight and clear about fairly complex ideas and history.  It can feel a bit like flipping through notecards to remind you of the history, and that's where I wondered if younger audiences would get lost - have they ever heard of Checkpoint Charlie?  Are they aware of the Soviet/ East German cabal that had us freaked out for about 30 years?  But it tackles the legal, moral, and historical issues in pretty decent detail, all while disguising it in character bits and dialog.  Not bad, and we can use more of this sort of thing.

So, anyway, probably worth a viewing at some point.

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