Steven Spielberg / Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan / Drama-Thriller / 2015 / 141 mins
1957, it's the height of the Cold War and anyone could be a spy, especially if you're Senator McCarthy.
There was good reason for Red Paranoia - there genuinely were spies lurking in the depths of idealised America. Bridge of Spies is based on the true story of lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks) and how he, firstly, defended Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) and then exchanged him for CIA recon pilot Gary Powers (Austin Stowell).
Rave reviews have followed since the release of Bridge of Spies. If you want to know why then look no further than the acting. Tom Hanks does what Tom Hanks does best. But Hanks's acting is standard compared to Mark Rylance as Abel, who is the true star of the show. Praise to the Coen Brothers (the scriptwriters of the film) for making a Soviet spy one of the heroes of an American film - that's a massive cultural step forward.
The rest of the cast are on point, though I will scrutinise Scott Shephard, who plays spy 'Hoffman'. He exaggerates his character when there's no need - he's playing a spy. Spies are meant to be inconspicuous individuals that DON'T GET TANTRUMS IN THE MIDDLE OF GODDAMN BERLIN DURING THE COLD WAR. Realism can go a long way sometimes.
Spielberg has created a film with little to no flaws - it's a technical masterpiece that tells a story well. However, this is very 'run of the mill' Spielberg: basic metaphors flushed out by acting talent. You get the sense the Cold War isn't taken seriously - the scenes that intentionally contrast Soviet territory and America are a little clichéd. It's a very 'Hollywood' film in that regard. Anyone and everyone will enjoy the film, but just expect to see it doing the rounds on TV during Easter or Christmas in five years.
Standard Spielberg: go and see it.
Todd Haynes / Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara / Drama / 2015 / 118 mins
I'm just going to say it: this is one of the greatest love films of all time.
Set in early '50s New York, Carol tells the story of Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara), a shopgirl in the toy section of a Manhatten department store with dreams of being a photographer, falling in love with an older woman, Carol (Cate Blanchett), who is going through a difficult divorce. Unassuming as the plot may seem, director Todd Haynes exploits every frame to render a complete sensual embodiment of love. Carol is the height of fetishism. Beauty is idolised, lingered upon with every shot. The mannerisms of each character and the senses they explore: the caress of Carol's hand, the way Therese writes Carol's name and takes obsessive photos of Carol, even the way Therese smells Carol's clothes... the list goes on.
Unfortunately, there's an element of sadness. Remember the context - this is '50s America - where society despised homosexuality. When the two protagonists decide to drive around America, they are free from society and thus experience their passion in its truest form. They are removed from society. It's quite the metaphor, and a deeply sad one. Regardless, the audience can do nothing but witness a rich love between two women; and that's the thing, the relationship between Carol and Therese is there from the start. There's the sexual climax mid-film but the fact remains that their relationship never blossoms - it was always there, from the first instance Therese spies Carol in the department store.
Very few films convey such a fetishized spectacle of love as Haynes's Carol. The nod toward Brief Encounter at the start - introducing our main protagonists through a minor-character - may lack originality but thereafter any traces of tradition are left firmly behind. If anything, the allusion to David Lean's classic grounds the basic principles of the movie. You get the sense Haynes merely wanted to say "This is a love film like any other, don't fucking judge." Cinema needs a bit of a wakeup call to the growing realisation that, yeah, gay people are normal too.
Why? Because Carol, shockingly, is a love story between two women *gasp* good grief! LGBTs have been explored, and honoured, briefly in Hollywood (Brokeback Mountain, Dallas Buyers Club, The Kids Are Alright... notice the 21st century theme going on?) but little can be said for explicitly lesbian love stories. Carol may be breaking boundaries, but let's remember that the female leads, Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, are both heterosexual. Whilst they both give outstanding performances (Oscar winning performances, I'll add) it must be said there is a complete lack of disregard for homosexual actresses who could quite easily have made the grade. At least Carol is a step forward; and Haynes is, without question, in unstoppable form. Bring on the Awards season.
This is queer cinema at its finest.
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