Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Bridge of Spies movie revue

I, as many other Cold War era veterans, waited in anticipation for the Bridge of Spies movie to be released. Must be over a year or more ago that it was announced that two Hollywood icons of the modern age of movie making were doing the film, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. Both of these men know how to draw in the viewer, entertain you while you are there, and then leave you thinking about what you had just seen for a lingering time thereafter.

How did they do this time you may ask?

From the viewpoint of the amateur Cold War historian that I am, it was worth the wait.

Yes, prior to seeing the movie, I researched the true story, read other's articles that were released when the movie was announced, and then waited for IMDB to release a trailer. The date came, movie tickets purchased (I took a non-veteran companion, my wife), and read a self-limited amount of the post release reviews from professional reviewers. I mainly read the other reviews to see how it is done for this is my first ever movie review.

After seeing the movie, I read some of the national press reviews, which I will comment on below.

OK, lets get started. Yes, I will see it again. The next time will be from the non-reviewer viewpoint. Did I enjoy it? Yes I did enjoy the whole movie. The story flowed well, there were no slow periods, there was enough diversity of scenes, and sub-plots to keep you informed of the true events and interested in what was going to happen next. In the humble opinion as a first time reviewer, Spielberg and Hanks did a good job of keeping me interested in what was going to happen next. Anticipation of where the movie is taking you is a key to being immersed in the story. Even though I knew the real story, I still gained a sense that there was something for me to see or learn in the next few minutes.

When I decided to review the movie for this blog I was at odds as to how to do it, what to say, etc so I read other movie reviews to see how it is done. Most were bad in that they either waxed philosophically about the subject or did a scene by scene description of the movie. Some were evidently trying to show how intelligent they were. You won't have that problem here with me!

I did not want to spoil the movie by doing a scene by scene description, I didn't want to try and sound like I'm this great movie aficionado, or share how intelligent I think I am; so what to do?

I decided to just take notes on certain points that grabbed me as a Cold War veteran and share them.

Here they are:

It was a war, a war of information, not of arms - true - the build up of arms was part of it but in the late 50s and early 60s, it was a war of information gathering. What was the other guy up to?

We have rules, there is a rule book, the Constitution - this scene is a not so subtle reminder that our legal system does have a rule book. It has been forgotten now and then in our Country's history.

There is a great scene that is gaining popularity with the other reviewers and it did strike me enough to recognize it. I see the "Standing Man" reference from the viewpoint that we veterans have that quality. I won't spoil the scene here by describing it or commenting on it any further.

The CGI in the U-2 shoot down is very well done.

Berlin is bleak - there are a few references as to the differences between the East and West sectors showing that East Berlin was still quite devastated 15 years after the war's end. If there is a reader who was there in that time period, please comment if this was true or not.

The differences in how the prisoners were treated in jail - East v. West, was shown though Spielberg chose to not show the Soviet spy, Abel's, treatment when he was in government custody prior to the trial. The viewer sees the arrest but does not get to see his interrogations. You do see Powers being interrogated several times.

A poignant scene for me is the shooting at the wall the Tom Hanks character, Donovan, witnesses. It later revisits his mind at the end of the movie and makes an unspoken statement of a major difference in American society to that of the Communist society of the era.

There is a twist during the Berlin negotiations that I just now decided to not share specifics here. I don't like "spoiler alerts" that other reviewers do so I won't do it here. Just watch for it.

As for other reviews and online comments - Spielberg took great pains to show small parts of life in America during those years. There is a scene that shows America of the early 60s through a commuter train window. This struck me during reading other revues and the comments of people who read them. The derogatory remarks about how wonderful everything looked, everyone was smartly dressed, etc made me think that these commenters do not know our country's societal history. The 50s and 60s were a prosperous time for America. The environment a successful lawyer lived in was that way. He would have had a nice home, would have shopped at Saks Fifth Avenue, his children and wife would have been dressed that way. The streets would have been clean, and well maintained homes and cars, would have been reality. Not everywhere was that way of course, especially in the inner cities, but in a successful lawyer's world, it would have been. I apologize, that was my soapbox moment for today!

Earlier I mention that Spielberg movies always leave you thinking about something, well, here is mine. There are two actually, one personal and one societal.

The Soviet spy, Abel, is a cool, calm, collected kind of character. He never seems to get rattled and answers, multiple times, with a question to the question - Don't you worry? Abel answers, Would it help? I need to instill that philosophy to my life.

The societal thought comes to me when I visualize two scenes from the movie. Spielberg has the Donovan character witness a Berlin Wall shooting that cancels the flight to freedom over the Berlin Wall for a group of young people trying to escape. The last scene is that of a group of young Americans jumping a fence in a backyard. My mind instantly saw the previous Berlin scene and realized where Spielberg was going with it - it was a statement of our two immensely different worlds at that time - the value of life given for the attempt at freedom. The Berlin youths wanted freedom badly enough to die for it. The American youths enjoy it as a God given right.

The Patrick Henry historical quote comes to mind - "If life is so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!".

Go see the movie, you will be glad you did.

Here is a glimpse:

Thank you to and DreamWorks Pictures/Fox 2000 Pictures for access to the trailer.

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Where did you serve? Military or Civilian? Stateside or Overseas. Fulda Gap? Berlin? NATO? CIA? State Department? The Dew Line? On a Missile Battery? Down in a Silo? At Sea? Under the Sea? In the Air? According to the VA over 26 million Vets are still alive. I'd bet that most served in the 1945-1991 time frame and I'd like to share your story on this blog. As long as it isn't still classified, email me with your story and I will post it here.