×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Bridge of Spies’ Could Bring Steven Spielberg a Step Closer to an Oscar Record

Will it be the film that sends him into best picture double digits?

Attention stat hounds: The next time a Steven Spielberg movie lands a best picture Oscar nomination, he’ll elbow John Ford out of the way on the list of filmmakers who have helmed the most. The two currently share the runner-up spot with nine apiece, a distant second to William Wyler’s 13. Is “Bridge of Spies,” a dramatization of lawyer James B. Donovan’s efforts to negotiate the Soviet release of downed U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers at the height of the Cold War in 1960, the movie to do it? Or is it just another in a long line of projects that looked good for awards on paper, but ultimately fell short?

The film premiered Sunday night as a no-frills selection at the New York Film Festival, i.e., Disney apparently did not opt for a splashy opening, closing or centerpiece selection slot. It was an unassuming way to insinuate what is in many ways an unassuming contender into the race.

This is very sturdy craftsmanship, the sort we’ve come to expect out of Spielberg and indeed take for granted. At 140 minutes, it feels overstuffed, but luckily the superfluous material comes in the first act, allowing the rest to catch a stride all the way through to the end. It’s thematically potent, dealing in notions of idealism particularly meaningful in the face of today’s perceived Constitutional slippery slopes. And it features a leading performance that commands the story as well as or better than any other this season.

That was a particularly notable element for me. Let’s be clear: Tom Hanks isn’t stretching much here, if at all. But his likable presence is so wonderfully utilized, his character so noble and strong and, above all, active, that the two-time Oscar winner could crack the best actor race. And a sprinkling of humor throughout (much of it seemingly owed to the presence of the Coen brothers on the page) just gives the whole thing, including Hanks’ performance, another texture.

But it’s Mark Rylance who will likely stand out for most as Soviet spy Rudolf Abel, who was exchanged for Powers and Frederic Pryor, an American student captured by the Germans. The “Wolf Hall” star brings a dry humor to the role and gives Abel a soft nobility to match Donovan’s honorable backbone. It’s a very endearing turn, and though the story eventually deserts him for a long stretch, it could resonate in a supporting actor category that won’t feature anything else quite like this.

Working again with cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, Spielberg’s frame is ever-immaculate, camera movement precise and motivated. Michael Kahn gets playful with his editing at times, providing a bit of life rather than simply allowing the history lesson to unfold. Each of them have received multiple Oscar nominations for their work on Spielberg’s films and each commands respect in his branch.

However, Thomas Newman’s score is mostly understated and sort of clashes with the material, I found. That could be the result of Spielberg’s work being so intrinsically connected to John Williams’ music all these years (the maestro was not available to him for the first time in three decades). Nevertheless, the music branch of the Academy tends to have its favorites, and Newman is certainly one of them.

So it could be a top-to-bottom player. Or it could be a touch muted for voters’ tastes. What it is regardless is a testament to Donovan as a hero worthy of a monument such as this. If, as noted separately, voters are eager for something that makes them feel good this season, “Bridge of Spies” could fit the bill. That it also finds a deeper layer of melancholy in recounting one of the darker eras of human history, and all the heartbreak and paranoia that came with it, only adds to the punch.

“Jaws,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial,” “The Color Purple,” “Schindler’s List,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Munich,” “War Horse” and “Lincoln.” That’s the lineage. Can “Bridge of Spies” crack it?

More Film

  • Loureiro’s Abano, Aragón’s Caribe Music Team

    Chelo Loureiro, Emilio Aragón Team on Animated ‘Valentina’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    CANNES – Spanish producer-turned director Chelo Loureiro of Galicia’s Ábano Producións has teamed with Spanish multi-hyphenate Emilio Aragón at Caribe Music to produce the upcoming animated feature “Valentina.” Valentina turns on a girl who is tired of having Down syndrome, and believes it to be the reason she’ll never be a trapeze artist. But Valentina’s [...]

  • Morelia Brings Four Shorts To Cannes

    Morelia’s Daniela Michel Presents Four Standout Mexican Shorts at Critics' Week

    Since 2005, the Cannes Film Festival Critics’ Week and Mexico’s Morelia Intl. Film Festival (FICM) have enjoyed a reciprocal relationship. Each year, a selection of short competition films from Morelia is shown in a special selection at Critics’ Week, with the features from the Cannes section screening five months later in Morelia. The short film [...]

  • Fedor Bondarchuk Drops Teaser for ‘Attraction

    Fedor Bondarchuk Drops Teaser for ‘Attraction 2’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    CANNES–Russian director Fedor Bondarchuk and his Art Pictures Studio have released the English-subbed teaser to “Attraction 2,” the sequel to Bondarchuk’s 2017 sci-fi blockbuster, which Variety has acquired exclusively. The director behind record-breaking Russian films such as World War II epic “Stalingrad” was in Cannes this week, where he presented footage from Art Pictures’ slate of upcoming [...]

  • Gkids Takes North American Rights for

    Gkids Takes North American Rights for ‘Weathering With You’

    CANNES–Gkids, the U.S. distributor of 11 best animated feature Oscar nominees, has acquired North American rights for “Weathering With You,” the new film from director Makoto Shinkai and producer Genki Kawamura. Gkids has set an awards-qualifying run for 2019 with a theatrical release in early 2020, in both the original Japanese and a new English-language [...]

  • Transilvania Film Fest Launches New SVOD

    Transilvania Film Fest Launches New SVOD Platform

    CANNES–The Transilvania Intl. Film Festival has announced a new SVOD service, TIFF Unlimited, which will launch during the festival’s 18th edition, which bows May 31 in Cluj, Romania. The service will curate titles from current and previous editions of the festival, while also showcasing other hand-picked auteur-driven productions, presented in partnership with local distributors. It [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content