Bridge of Spies (2015) Spielberg’s Cold War Epic (Fail)

Bridge of Spies

Before anyone’s going to tell me that I should have known better, I’ll admit it right away—Yes, I should have known better and not even bothered watching Bridge of Spies. It had everything I don’t like about some Spielberg movies: length, sentimentality, hokeyness and Tom Hanks. So, why watch it? You know, it could have been good. Every once in a while Spielberg produces something really decent. And I’ve seen films with Tom Hanks I liked (Saving Private Ryan, Philadelphia, Road to Perdition). And since it was based on true events, I thought it would at least be interesting. And it was.  If only they had cut at least half an hour. And abstained from a super-corny ending.

So, what’s it about. Tom Hanks is an American lawyer, Donovan, who is hired to defend a Russian spy. The US want to make sure that they are perceived as just and fair. Donovan is a lawyer who has no experience in criminal law, nonetheless, he’s giving his best, which isn’t wanted. He soon finds out that no matter how good his defence is, he will never get his client free as the verdict’s been agreed upon a long time ago. It’s a bogus trial.

Donovan is one of those typical Spielberg characters who rise above themselves when they see injustice and don’t shy away from putting themselves in danger. While he isn’t able to free the spy, he’s able to avoid the death penalty and he’s clever enough to make the authorities understand that a Russian spy, if left alive, could come in handy. And he’s right. Very soon they will be able to use the spy to free one of their own.

So far, I liked the movie but then comes the second part, in which Donovan is hired by the CIA to arrange the exchange of Rudolf Abel against a captured American pilot, Francis Gary Powers, whose U2 spy plane was shot down during a mission over Russia.

Donovan is sent to East Berlin to arrange the exchange. It’s 1961 and the wall has just been built. During those chaotic days, an American student is captured because he’s suspected to be a spy. Donovan hears of this and during the second part of the movie, we see him negotiate with the Russians and the Eastern Germans to exchange Abel against both Americans.

The second half of the movie suffered from terrible lengths. The filmmakers tried to make it gripping, accentuating how dangerous the territory was, but they didn’t succeed because the discussions between the involved parties were stiff and slow and full of clichés. I was tempted to fast-forward.

The hardest part to watch was the ending. It was just so painfully corny. There’s a scene at the beginning of the movie, in which a woman on a train looks scornfully at Donovan because he defends a Russian spy. The very same woman can be seen looking at him with great admiration and gratefulness at the end. These are the kind of corny, sentimental scenes that make me shudder.

As I said before, I’m not that keen on Tom Hanks or Spielberg but they have both done great, or at least entertaining movies. This wasn’t one of them.

Meanwhile, I’ve done some digging and it doesn’t even look as if the movie was historically accurate.

Have you seen it? Did you like it?


Why Saving Private Ryan (1998) is not in my Top 10 of Favourite War Movies but in my Top 5 of most Influential War Movies

I have seen Saving Private Ryan for the first time in cinema when in came out. At the time it was like a fist in the gut. The Omaha Beach landing was nothing I had ever seen before and this was very probably the beginning of my fascination with war movies. Since then I have seen many more but when I ended up doing my Top 10 it wasn’t in it. I watched it again, like it a lot but didn’t want to add it to the list. Still it is important to say in advance, no matter what my personal reasons are,  the genre has been marked by Saving Private Ryan to a very large extent. There really is a time before and a time after Saving Private Ryan. Especially when it comes to WWII movies. The depiction of war has fundamentally changed with and through Saving Private Ryan. Never before did those who watched get the feeling they were in the battle like in Saving Private Ryan. Therefore, if I should make a Top 10 of most influential War Films, Saving Private Ryan would even be among the top 5.

I guess the second viewing was a distracted so I felt I had to re-watch it. I am sorry to say but this third viewing has made it clear to me. Saving Private Ryan is never going to be among my top ten unless I would have to choose movie scenes. It has some of the very best scenes that you can find in any war movie but unfortunately it has way too many really corny moments. As a matter of fact I hadn’t even remembered such a lot of corny moments. Maybe that is why I love Band of Brothers which is certainly the closest you can get to Saving Private Ryan. To me this is like a purified version of it. But still, it is excellent.

For those who have never watched it I’ll summarize the story. An old man stands at the grave of someone and looks back on his life. Rewind some 50 years. D-Day. We are in the middle of the Omaha Beach landing. Horrible scenes are shown. All filmed with a shaky hand-held camera to heighten the authentic feel. People’s guts spilling out. Bodies ripped apart. Heads blown off. Arms ripped out. Men crying, screaming and praying until the worst is over, the noise dies down and the only thing that stays is a beach full of dead bodies and body parts. After this horror Capt. Miller gets a new assignment. We will follow him and his group well into France and behind enemy lines. He has to look for one James Francis Ryan. All three of his brothers were killed in action so people in Washington decided to get him out and back to the States. The group around Capt. Miller are reluctant to go on such a seemingly futile mission. They don’t understand why they have to endanger their lives for the sake of one soldier. This is a very tight-knit group of soldiers and that is part of the appeal of this movie. The sense of camaraderie and friendship has rarely been depicted this touchingly. There are very moving moments especially between Miller and Horvath. There is one in which they talk to each other in an empty church at night. Their closeness is palpable. Strangely it almost makes you want to be there. There are much more tragic moments however. One after the other of the men gets killed until they find James Ryan. When finally discovering him they face the biggest problem. He doesn’t want to leave. He feels he owes it to his comrades to stay. His highly decimated group must defend a bridge against a majority of Germans. This is one of the many famous bridge scenes that we encounter in war movies. Bridges being strategically as relevant as hills, it is a frequent theme. As I don’t know if every reader knows the story I will stop here.

Saving Private Ryan has some of the most memorable war movie characters. I like Capt. Miller as much as Sgt. Horvath, the Privates Reiben, Jackson, Caparzo and Mellish and of course the Medic Wade. As we follow the little group for a long time we get to know them very well. It has also one of the most annoying war movie characters in it. Upham is a revolting person. And there is of course a very mean German. In any case, kudos to the actors. Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Matt Damon.

Saving Private Ryan is infantry combat at its best. A lot of intense fighting. Incredible settings. Unfortunately it has moments that are way too sentimental for my taste. I will always prefer Band of Brothers.

Now it’s your turn to rank it. 1. In your Top Favourite List 2. In a Best of List and  3. Most Influential ones.

Another of my posts on Saving Private Ryan: Mean Old Private Ryan