Bridge of Spies - Review

PG-13  |  135 min  |  Drama, Thriller
Review - Matt Mungle

**In theaters October 16, 2015**

SynopsisAn American lawyer is recruited by the CIA during the Cold War to help rescue a pilot detained in the Soviet Union.

ReviewDid you hear about the two history buffs who decided to make a movie? Tom Hanks jumped at the chance, almost begged - not that he would have to - to be in the new Steven Spielberg directed thriller, BRIDGE OF SPIES. I doubt that old Steve ever argued. Inspired by a true story this film may not be every ones cup of tea, or shot of vodka, but as movies go it is pretty top notch. 

The film wastes no time driving headlong into the story and drama. When Colonel Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) is arrested by the CIA and charged as a Russian spy he is provided with an attorney; James Donovan (Hanks). It is at the height of the cold war and Abel is the most hated man in America. Donovan, having to defend him, might be a close second. When the Russians shoot down and capture an American spy Donovan must now negotiate the exchange. 

Though the poster and synopsis sound like a Tom Clancy power novel this film is far from it. Maybe the soft and endearing presence of Tom Hanks adds an "every man" feel to it. Or possibly the casual writing style of Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, and Joel Coen give it more a cerebral tone than a wall to wall thriller. It is smart, sophisticated, and emotionally riveting. It isn't too far a stretch to compare Donavan to film characters like Atticus Finch. He is a man of principles and of doing the right thing no matter the cost.  

The Cold War is not far in our historic rear view mirror and many can remember the animosity our nation felt against anything Soviet. Older audiences will no doubt take more from the setting and story line. The palpable danger that seemed to be on the minds of many held our country in a grip for a while. So the things that Donovan must do elevate the tension of the film. Again the drama comes more subtly though experience and situation and less of perilous, never could happen fiction. 

Yes, Tom Hanks carries this film and is magnificent. But he is still Hanks the same way Meryl Streep is always Streep. He is recognizable and doesn't do much to try and change that fact. He still embodies the emotion of the moment and character which draws us in and submerges us in the story. There is never any phoned in moments and you never feel like you are being short changed. Rylance is the one to keep your eyes on. His performance of this soft spoken convicted spy is beautifully done. I am not saying that Spielberg tries to get you to feel sympathy for the Russian spy. But I am not not saying it either. 

This ability to step away from a time in our nations past in order to look at it through a humanitarian lens is important. Decades ago a film like this would have been labeled unpatriotic. Even though it is as patriotic as any film you will see. But gone are the Americans good Russians bad mentality. As a society we have found other nationalities to point our anger and judgement. Also, let us not forget that this film is not just a piece of Hollywood propaganda. Unlike Finch, Donovan was and is a real person. Hard to argue with reality. 

The cinematography is spotless and you will be hard pressed to find a film, set on this planet, that looks this crisp and detailed. The landscape of Berlin is cold and ravaged. You feel every wind gust and cringe around every corner.

BRIDGE OF SPIES is rated PG-13 for some violence and brief strong language. This film is written and offered up for adults so the rating fits the demographic. I personally would not want to see a film like this toned down to cater to a softer audience. It would sacrifice the point and the tension. The language is very brief and to focus on ten seconds of content in light of the overall project would be ludicrous. As mentioned earlier it is smart and sophisticated. To expect any less from Spielberg when dealing with this sort of subject matter would be out of sorts. I give it 4 out of 5 overcoats and believe it to be a must see, especially for those interested in the Oscar season race. 

Woodlawn - Review

PG  |  Drama
Review - Matt Mungle

**In theaters October 16, 2015**

SynopsisA gifted high school football player must learn to embrace his talent and his faith as he battles racial tensions on and off the field.

ReviewFaith based films are getting far less cringe inducing with each new project. Before you sort of had to overlook the Sunday School script, the bad acting from untalented pew mates of the director, and the all around unrealistic material designed to pump up the choir. Thankfully WOODLAWN is a giant leap forward in the faith movie genre. It isn't a perfect film but does deserve a little grace.

Set in the 1970's the "based on a true story" plot follows high school football phenom Tony Nathan (Caleb Castille) as he tries to overcome the obstacles of racial tension and segregation in the deep south. If you saw Remember the Titans you know the drill. The entire community is about to derail when along comes Hank (Sean Astin). Hank is there, at his own invitation, to share the gospel message that recently changed his life at a revival in Dallas. He strongly believes that prayer and a devotion to Christ can turn around even the horrific situation taking place at the school. 

The characters in the story are true and if you google Tony Nathan you can see how his life later progressed in the NFL. Hank is real. The coaches are real. So the fact that you have living breathing people adds some validity and depth to the story and outcome. This isn't a fictional account of "wouldn't it have been nice if" scenario. Football is a fantastic backdrop for unity and motivation. Combine that with the Jesus movement of the 70's and brother you have some strong fodder for a script; material that Directors Jon and Andrew Erwin use to their advantage. 

It was also advantageous to bring in actors who not only embrace the story but have the talent to flesh it out on screen. This is a dramatic film and the emotion has to be believable. The audience has to be convinced that what you are preaching is right on. If not, the message loses its power to change. Astin delivers with the same conviction that helped get Frodo up that mountain. Jon Voight, Nic Bishop, and C. Thomas Howell also bring some acting chops to the mix. This is Castille's first film but you wouldn't know it by watching him. He creates a character that you can root for, empathize with, and cheer for a hundred times over. So this blend of talent along with the true account help to bring about a film that has the ability to reach farther than the church foyer. 

That said... script writers for this genre still struggle with how to tell it like it is without making it sound preachy, or worse, like God is a Genie in a Bottle. Rub Him just right and you win games, stay safe, and get new trucks (wait that was another movie). Say a tiny prayer and David Duke and Farrakhan will hold hands and dance in the aisles. Yes prayer works. But in films many times it always seems to go the way the characters want it to. That can be dangerous if not handled correctly.

WOODLAWN is rated PG for thematic elements including some racial tension/violence. This was an inspiring movie to watch and will have you cheering and fist pumping. Football fans and those who like to watch origin stories of NFL players will take much from it. The editing of the film is fast and keeps the pace energetic. You feel each hit on the field while still being able to soak in every side line dialogue of faith and forgiveness. I give it 3.5 out of 5 extra points. It gave me hope not only in humanity and the power of prayer but the future of faith based films as well.