Its greatest success is that it perfectly executes all the technical fortuitousness of Hollywood conventions and American filmmaking.
Its greatest setback is that it perfectly executes all the technical fortuitousness of Hollywood conventions and American filmmaking.
Spielberg’s cinematic form, which was once unique, has now become synonymous with Hollywood’s prototype of what makes a good (commercially appealing) film. So while Bridge of Spies turns out a perfect exemplar of his craft, it too falls victim to all the cliche and overridden plot structures and characterizations that Spielberg helped develop as a form of cinema as entertainment.
In Ford-like classicism, Bridge of Spies paints an inspiring story of a true American hero. With this as its central aim, aspects of the film’s structure, its development, and its characters are designed in order to continually buttress its presentation of Tom Hanks as Jim Donald, an American hero. To do this, Spielberg often resorts to stock characters and a demarcation of black and white, good and bad, and other dichotomies to coerce the viewer to side with Jim. One sides with Jim, therefore, not just for the character he presents, but for all the characters he opposes, characters who represent ideas such as communism, war, impatience, and the inhumane. As a singular figure willing to stand up for what’s right, he figures perfectly into the archetypal American hero. He is even called a “Standing Man” on multiple occasions, and a painting is drawn to depict him as a stoic and unflappable doer of what is right.
The problem with Spielberg hitting the nail on the head in every measure is that he does so at the expense of authenticity. The characters are deliberately transformed into supporting stock figures whose primary aims are contrived to fit the films ends. So, when the films contradictions surface near the finale, it seems that all was done in vain, with the means only supporting the ends superficially. In subtle Hollywood fashion, a sort of remixed American anthem—the key and chords changed around a bit—brings sentimentality and warmth to images of Jim on the train, with his family, and lying on the bed. His wife looks on sleeping body with quiet pride for all heroic activity. His family is now happy for what he has done, and so is the random lady who rides the train with him. Once hating on him for defending a spy; there is a great warmth of patriotic duty at the fact that he has literally gotten this man free (since it also freed an American).
This rather artificial finale is made genuine however through the mask of emotional music which takes over the film’s tone more so than the awkward images. All this added to the superb though conventional uses of motifs (“would it help?”), atmospheric lighting (unnatural floodlighting and grayscale), and cinematography (visual movement to convey metaphorical bridges between fore and background characters) makes Bridge of Spies a simultaneous triumph of American cinema and filmmaking in general as well as a perfect exemplar for how Hollywood tropes and techniques might be critiqued for having a subtextual agenda, one which forgives artifice in favour of commercial appeal.
75/100 – Very Good.