Saturday, November 28, 2015

Bridge of Spies

Tom Hanks literally phoning it in
It would be silly to call Steven Spielberg America's worst film director - there are many worse directors, but perhaps it would be fair to say that Spielberg is the American film director who disappoints us the most. Not because he makes bad films but because he churns out such consistently unchallenging, mediocre fare year after year. A typical Spielberg movie will be a solid B- or a C+ with some lovely crane shots, competent acting, a soaring John Williams score and loads of schmaltz and bathos especially in the third act. Spielberg makes films for people to watch on planes - a harmless two hours that'll keep you moderately entertained while the kid behind you screams and kicks your seat and the lady next to you scoffs from a Kentucky Fried Chicken bargain bucket that she somehow smuggled onto the aircraft. At the end of every single Spielberg movie you sort of shrug, sigh and think: well that was ok. 
Bridge of Spies is no different. Tom Hanks turns in his usual Tom Hanks performance as the insurance lawyer who was sent to East Germany to negotiate the repatriation of U2 pilot Gary Powers in 1961. The overpraised Mark Rylance plays the character he always plays on film, soft spoken, still, with a slight twinkle in the eye. (Early on in his stage career Rylance must have met Richard Burton or Lawrence Olivier who told him "the secret to acting on film, dear boy, is to do nothing!" And he's been doing next to nothing ever since.) 
In Bridge of Spies Spielberg has the amazing ability to take a script written by those enemies of schmaltz, the Coen Brothers, and schmaltz it up to the point where even lovers of chicken soup must have been gagging. Spielberg has said that he doesn't mind being called "sentimental". He should. James Joyce called sentimentality "unearned emotion" and this pretty much covers every film Spielberg has made for the last three decades. Professional critics love Spielberg and they love Tom Hanks and Bridge of Spies might win the Oscar for best picture, which will be a pretty sad state of affairs. I reckon the best place to see this is on a plane with the chicken woman and the annoying kid and when its over and you're 2 hours closer to your destination you'll think yeah that was all right.