“Bridge of Spies” finally reveals itself at the New York Film Festival

bridge of spies tom hanks headshot copy
Yesterday, I was among the very first pundits to see Steven Spielberg’s new movie Bridge of Spies as it screened at the New York Film Festival. As I’ve mentioned recently, this film was one of the last of the unseen Academy Award hopefuls, so now the Oscar race has ever so slightly seen a clearing up of its possibilities, if you will. Whenever Spielberg gets together with Tom Hanks to make a flick, something interesting happens, and this is no exception. Is it an awards player though? Well, that might not be as much of a slam dunk as we all thought earlier this year…

The film is a Cold War set drama with spy thriller elements to it. Hanks stars as attorney James Donovan, who was recruited by the government to give a defense to a captured soviet spy (played by Mark Rylance) and then asked by the C.I.A. during the height of the hostilities to help rescue downed pilot Gary Powers after he’s detained in the Soviet Union, while also negotiating the swap of a Soviet prisoner held by the United States. Hanks leads the charge obviously, with Rylance in the main supporting role. Alan Alda, Domenick Lombardozzi, Billy Magnussen, Amy Ryan, and Austin Stowell also make up the main cast. Spielberg directs, obviously, with Matt Charman having written the script that was then polished up by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen (yes, the Coen Brothers). Janusz Kaminski is the cinematographer here and Thomas Newman composes the score, making for as A-list a crop of talent involved in a film as any in 2015.

Bridge of Spies is neither the Best Picture frontrunner now nor an Oscar pretender, so its status as a curious contender of unknown proportions remains, oddly enough. On the one hand, it’s really strongly made, well acted and with tight direction. On the other hand though, it’s sort of cold and clinical, made without overt passion, which can keep an Academy member from truly embracing it. To some degree, this is as if Spielberg took a Clint Eastwood project that might otherwise have turned out mediocre and made it rather solid. That’s the thing though…is just solid enough to appeal to a voter? If there’s a true highlight, it’s the supporting turn from Rylance, though Hanks is his reliably good self and Spielberg has hardly lose a step either.

That will be the main question, awards wise. If the film had hit at NYFF as a top tier Hanks/Spielberg pairing, it would have instantly been a potential frontrunner all over the place. There would be huge campaigns in Best Picture, Best Director (for Spielberg), Best Actor (for Hanks) Best Supporting Actor (for Alda and especially Rylance), Best Supporting Actress (for Ryan), Best Original Screenplay (for Charman and the Coens), Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Makeup, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Original Score, to say the least. Now, I think those campaigns will all be there, but far more muted, give or take Hanks and Rylance, the latter of whom is best in show here. As for Best Picture, it’s a filler nominee at best, which doesn’t mean that the movie isn’t good, but that it just isn’t great.

Overall, Bridge of Spies didn’t disappoint at NYFF, but it may have slightly underwhelmed due to high expectations. A solid and effective drama made for adults is rare in the marketplace, but it’s not an automatic awards winner. Oscar could still look kindly upon this, since it’s Spielberg after all, but in my next update to predictions (possibly this week), I’m going to tinker with a much smaller showing for the flick than I’ve pervasively been willing to try. A week from Friday you’ll get a chance to see it for yourself, but take it from me when I say that you won’t dislike it. That being said, take it from me that you also probably won’t fall head over heels in love with it. This is a good film, but really only just that…

Be sure to check out Bridge of Spies when it opens on October 16th!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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