There are three types of “throws”. One, when you throw something at an object, you expect to hit it, and you do. Two, when you throw something at an object, you don’t expect to hit it, and you do. And three, when you throw something at an object, miss it, but hit an unexpected object. Like the time my brother and I were at the town dump shooting arrows (what, you never did that?). One of us (sorry, not being humble, just don’t remember) was aiming at an object, a sign on a post I think. Missed the sign, hit the post, and the arrow “twanged” in a strange way. Turns out the arrow went right into a small hole on the post the same diameter as the arrow! Or the time we were throwing snowballs at a moving train, and it didn’t hit the train, but went into an open window on the train! HELLO!
The same can be said about some movies. A movie made by Steven Spielberg for example. The man is an artist with the camera. You know the shots will be framed beautifully, the cinematography will be gorgeous. But the quality of the script and story is not guaranteed. With a good script, he’s unbeatable. The Sugarland Express (1974), Jaws (1975), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Jurassic Park (1993), Catch Me If You Can (2002), and War of the Worlds (2005), are masterpieces, not just because of Spielberg, but just as much for the script. As proof of this, look at some of his other efforts; The Terminal (2004), a so-so effort. War Horse (2011), beautifully shot, but not memorable, and Lincoln (2012), sorry, I only was able to watch 20 minutes of it. Horrible.
Watching the trailer for Bridge of Spies, you think, OK, looks like it might be interesting. Wrong. The snowball goes right into the open window! Amazing!
We’re told the true story of a Russian spy caught in America, his trial, and conviction. Next, an American spy plane is shot down over Russia. His capture (shown through a white-knuckle inducing sequence), trial and imprisonment. Next the deliberations as both sides, distrustful of each other, try to exchange their prisoners.
In the hands of a different director and screenwriter, this could be an interesting but stale movie (like a snowball hitting the train). But right away, the perfectly framed shots draw you in. Every scene is set up like it’s a VIS (Very Important Scene), and with the terrific script by Joel and Ethan Cohen (Raising Arizona – 1987, True Grit – 2010) every scene is a VIS. No wasted scenes here. Something important to the story is constantly before us, keeping us and the story moving ever forward.
It also helps that Tom Hanks, an actor who seems incapable of giving a bad performance, is at the center of the story as the initially reluctant attorney asked to defend the Russian spy, who is played by Mark Rylance, in a performance where the adjectives subtle and powerful both accurately describe it (that sentence was way too long, I know, but I decided to go for it).
The movie takes place in the 60’s, so those of you who are young, will be in suspense until the very end, since most POYs (People of Youth) know very little about history and won’t know the outcome of this true story. Those of you who are OBWs (Older But Wiser) will still enjoy the look back in time, as well as appreciate a movie that does not include a super hero crashing through a building.
So if you passed over this movie thinking it just looked so-so, think again, pull back on that arrow and watch it twang into that tiny hole. You’re welcome.