BRIDGE OF SPIES (2015) BRINGS HISTORICAL MOMENT TO LIFE

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Movie Review:  BRIDGE OF SPIES (2015)

By bridge_of_spies

Michael Arruda

 

Tom Hanks is sensational in BRIDGE OF SPIES (2015), Steven Spielberg’s compelling Cold War thriller based on the true story of an American lawyer who defends an accused Soviet spy.

Sure, Hanks is almost always good, but even so, this is probably my favorite Hanks’ performances in quite some time.  While he was very good in CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (2013) I enjoyed him more here in BRIDGE OF SPIES.  It might be my favorite Hanks’ performance since way back when in APOLLO 13 (1995).

BRIDGE OF SPIES opens in 1957 with the arrest of accused Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance).  The U.S. government asks insurance lawyer James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) to defend him, and Donovan reluctantly agrees.  It quickly becomes clear to Donovan that the U.S. justice system has already made up its mind about Abel’s guilt, and he is heavily criticized for putting up a valid defense for the man. This does not sit well with Donovan, and the more pressure he receives to just show up and let Abel be found guilty, the harder he works at defending Abel.

During this process, Donovan gets to know Abel quite well and a friendship of mutual respect develops.  Later, when Air Force Lieutenant Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) is shot down and captured for the Soviets, a trade is suggested, Powers for Abel.  The CIA asks Donovan to broker the trade, and to travel to East Berlin to do it.  It’s a sensitive operation, as neither government will publicly acknowledge what’s going on, and so Donovan will be working in East Berlin on his own.  Because of his feelings for Abel, Donovan agrees, and he finds himself embroiled in Cold War espionage as he has to deal with the Soviets, the East Germans, the lack of public support from the U.S., and his growing fear that by arranging this deal he might be sending Abel to his death at the hand of the Soviets.

The main reason to see BRIDGE OF SPIES is Tom Hanks because he delivers his best acting performance in years, but there are also plenty of other reasons to see it as well.

For starters, the director is Steven Spielberg.  It’s hard to say if BRIDGE OF SPIES is better than Spielberg’s previous effort, LINCOLN (2012), a movie I liked a lot.  It’s certainly equally as good.  In some ways, it is better, as it definitely generates more suspense and drama than LINCOLN did.  In terms of historical dramas, they’re on equal footing, but BRIDGE OF SPIES is paced slightly better and is definitely more intriguing.  Both films feature phenomenal acting performances by their two lead actors, Tom Hanks here, and Daniel Day Lewis in LINCOLN.

In BRIDGE OF SPIES, Spielberg painstakingly recreates the Cold War period and thoroughly captures the feel of the time.  Sets, costumes, and make-up are all topnotch, and the images memorable, some of them haunting, like the scene where Hanks witnesses the barbaric activity at the Berlin Wall from a passenger train.

The acting is superb throughout, with the other stand-out besides Hanks being Mark Rylance as Rudolf Abel.  The scene where he recounts the story from his childhood about his father’s friend, who he relates to Hanks’ James Donovan, is another of the film’s highlights.

The screenplay by Matt Charman and Ethan and Joel Coen pretty much tells a straightforward story with the emphasis placed on James Donovan and how this ordeal both changed and shaped his life.  It also details Donovan’s relationship with Rudolf Abel, and how the two men developed a mutual respect for one another.  It’s a gripping historical drama, and it’s honest and direct.  Don’t expect the quirkiness of some of Ethan and Joel Coen’s other movies, like FARGO (1996) and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007).

BRIDGE OF SPIES is the whole package.  It’s got one of the all-time best directors in Steven Spielberg at the helm, phenomenal acting led by Tom Hanks, a superb script, and cinematography worthy of an artistic painting.  It’s a satisfying cinematic event that is both entertaining and rewarding.  Moreover, it succeeds in bringing a moment in our history to life.

BRIDGE OF SPIES is one bridge you’ll definitely want to cross.

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DiCaprio Shines In Early Role in THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK (1998) -Streaming Video Review by Michael Arruda

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the-man-in-the-iron-mask-movie-poster-1998-Streaming Video Review:  THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK (1998)

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Michael Arruda

Today, with a so many movies available at the drop of a hat thanks to streaming video, one of the things I like to do is go back and catch early performances of some of today’s most popular performers.

With that in mind, as a fan of Leonardo DiCaprio, in such recent films as THE GREAT GATSBY (2013), DJANGO UNCHAINED (2013), and THE DEPARTED (2006), it was fun to turn back the clock and catch one of his earlier performances in THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK (1998), now available on streaming video.

In THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK, Leonardo DiCaprio plays the dual role of King Louis XIV and his twin brother Philippe, the titled man in the iron mask.

Young King Louis XIV (Leonardo DiCaprio) rules France with an iron fist, keeping the country poor, starving and miserable.  The now retired three musketeers, Aramis (Jeremy Irons), Athos (John Malkovich) and Porthos (Gerard Depardieu) understand that a change is needed in order to save the country.  Only D’Artagnan (Gabriel Byrne) remains loyal to the king.

It’s discovered that the mysterious imprisoned man in the iron mask is really the king’s twin brother, and Aramis hatches a plot to free the man and then switch him with the real king in order to restore sanity to the crown.  And of course, young Philippe (Leonardo DiCaprio) is everything his twin brother is not:  sensitive, caring, and thoughtful.

As the three musketeers reunite to carry out their plan to replace the king with his identical twin in order to save France, D’Artagnan finds himself pitted against his former friends, with orders from the king to do whatever is necessary to stop the plot from happening, even if it means killing his former associates.

THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK is a decent enough movie, and it’s fairly entertaining, but I didn’t find it anywhere near as fun as the Richard Lester’s 1970s romps THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973) and THE FOUR MUSKETEERS (1974).

I watched it specifically to catch an earlier DiCaprio performance that I had missed the first time around way back when in 1998, and in this regard, I wasn’t disappointed.  While I prefer the DiCaprio of today, he’s actually quite good here in the dual role of King Louis XIV and his poor brother Philippe.

Of the two roles, I preferred him as the evil king, as his performance is a nice foreshadowing of things to come, specifically his role as the sinister Calvin Candie in DJANGO UNCHAINED.  He’s good as Philippe as well, but Louis XIV is certainly the meatier role, and much more satisfying to watch.

The rest of the cast is decent, as they should be, considering the quality of the actors involved here.  Jeremy Irons makes a respectable Aramis, and he’s strong throughout the movie, but I could give or take Gerard Depardieu as Porthos.  Only John Malkovich truly stands out in a very sincere and riveting performance as Athos, who’s anguished in this story because the king had his son murdered.

Gabriel Byrne isn’t bad as D’Artagan, but I’ve seen him better in other movies.

THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK was written and directed by Randall Wallace.  Wallace also wrote the screenplay for the Mel Gibson epic BRAVEHEART (1995).  His screenplay for THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK, based on the novels by Alexandre Dumas, is adequate enough.  It tells an entertaining story but falls short of accomplishing anything grand.  It’s not hopping and humorous like the Richard Lester films from the 1970s, nor is it riveting enough to be considered a rousing adventure in its own right.  It plays like a straightforward historical drama, and there’s nothing wrong with this, but in the same breath, it didn’t wow me either.

THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK looks fine— it’s a great looking period piece with excellent sets and colorful costumes— but don’t expect many exciting action sequences.  While there is sword play here and there, none of it is all that electrifying.

The film is driven by its acting performances, and is carried by the presence of an ensemble of veteran actors.  Among these actors was an up and coming youngster- Leonardo DiCaprio- who probably, with the exception of John Malkovich, delivers the best performance in the movie.  It’s a nice precursor to DiCaprio’s future roles which so far, have taken him along the very successful road to stardom, where now he’s the one who is the accomplished veteran actor.

While I can’t say that I loved THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK, I did enjoy it, and I did have fun watching the Leonardo DiCaprio of a decade ago begin to strut his stuff.

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