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    Movie Reviews: Bridge of Spies and Steve Jobs
    November 1, 2015 5:23 pm  
    Movie Reviews: Bridge of Spies and Steve Jobs

    by Liam Haber

    In every sense of the word, Bridge of Spies is very Spielbergian. And yes, I know that isn’t a word, but it is the best way to describe the latest movie from the man who is likely the most notable director of today.

    From the father-son issues (however brief) to the sense of American idealism to the casual and clever humor throughout, Bridge of Spies has the watermark of Steven Spielberg all over it. But considering the track record of the man, this is not the worst way to describe a directing style.

    Bridge of Spies is based on a true story of James Donovan, a small-time lawyer who has to argue on the behalf of both a Soviet spy on American soil as well as America itself along the battleground that is the Cold War. Leading the film is the ever fantastic Tom Hanks, once again doing the absolute best with a role that is perfect for him. Much like how only Spielberg could direct this movie, only Hanks could star in it. It is so well built for the actor that it’s a wonder it wasn’t written for him. When Donovan is asked to defend Rudolf Abel, a Brooklyn resident who also happens to be a Soviet spy, Donovan puts his own life at risk to defend the most hated man in America. Played by the esteemed, multi-Tony winning Broadway actor Mark Rylance, Abel is much more than just a spy, imbibed with a sense of reality that would be lost in other hands. Both Rylance and Hanks have such grips on who they are and why they are that it is incredibly easy to get lost in the performances alone.

    The story itself has a fairly well-known (or at the very least, predictable) ending but, much like Apollo 13, that doesn’t keep you off of the edge of your seat. Written first by Mark Charman and then revised by the Coen Brothers, the script hits every beat expected with ease and humor, somewhat mechanical but nevertheless exciting. The Coen Brothers’ humor is present, but something about it is lost in translation when directed by Spielberg and spoken by Hanks. It still lands, but it doesn’t have the same power to it as it would in a Coen Brothers movie. But aside from the humor, this is a Spielberg drama through and through, similar in tone most to 2012’s Lincoln of his many movies.

    But just as the story of the film is predictable, so too is how it plays out. If you’ve seen enough Spielberg movies, you will be able to know what comes next most of the time. There are no surprises or twists that cannot be figured out before the characters are onto it, and there were a few times that I felt smarter than the movie if only because I figured something out the characters never addressed. This isn’t terrible, but it does weigh the film down a bit, bringing it down to an Earth it should be flying 70,000 feet above.

    The most striking thing about Bridge of Spies is its design. The cinematography from Janusz Kamiński, Spielberg’s longtime collaborator, is fantastic, taking in every ounce of detail that could be ripped from the excellent production design. A large motif of the movie is the notion of a “Standing Man,” and Kamiński does an incredible job of shooting just that: men standing and facing their fates, their futures. Editor Michael Kahn (another Spielberg regular) also does wonders, making Cold War arguments more entertaining and intense than they have any right to be. Finally, the score by Thomas Newman is excellent as always, if mixed into the movie a little heavily. Newman’s music captures the feel of the typical Williams score most Spielberg films have (Williams was ill at the time he’d need to write the music for this film) while also making his own personal impression.

    The cast of this film is impressive with actors like Amy Ryan, Alan Alda and Jesse Plemons in particular doing very fine work with very small roles, but the two main stars of Hanks and Rylance are a draw enough. And to see Spielberg at his best is just as much of a draw. Cold War-era litigation has never been so much fun to watch.


    Bob Dylan once wrote “May you build a ladder to the stars/And climb on every rung/May you stay forever young.” Written as a lullaby from a parent to a child, every lyric of the song “Forever Young” is about a wish for a better future and a promise of greater things to come. The words to this song no doubt spoke heavily to notorious Dylan-fan Steve Jobs, who was both the father of a young girl and as the father of technology as we know it, from the iPhone I have sitting on my desk to the earliest ancestor of the personal computer I’m using to type right now. I also imagine that these lyrics spoke to the writer and the director of the absolutely extraordinary Steve Jobs, which has already gone down in my own mind as the best film of 2015 so far.

    To say that Steve Jobs is an unconventional biopic would be a massive understatement. Focusing solely on three of the most important days in the life of Jobs himself with flashbacks providing an idea of how he found himself in these positions, the film reinvents the biographical film format in a way that will cause all future movies in this genre to be compared back to Steve Jobs. Beginning in 1984 with the launch of the Mackintosh, followed by the 1988 announcement of the NeXT Computer, and finishing with the 1998 launch of the iMac. Told mainly in real-ish time about the behind-the-scenes goings on at these major events, Jobs has to contend with some of the many people who were so influential in getting these products and Jobs himself into the public eye, along with a few guests he’d prefer not to see. Played almost as a highly kinetic Broadway show in three acts, Steve Jobs is a breathless adventure that simultaneously shows just how the mind of the man behind the biggest technology company in the world thinks.

    Aaron Sorkin, the writer behind The Social Network and Moneyball and best known for his TV shows The West Wing and The Newsroom, has made a masterpiece that, while not 100% factually accurate, manages to get to the heart of one of the best known men in America. Many of Sorkin’s most notable traits, from the rapid-fire dialogue to the pop culture references to the act of walking and talking at the same time all make countless appearances and aid the film greatly, creating a sense of urgency and import that wouldn’t commonly be expected solely from dialogue. For a movie without any gunshots, explosions, super powers, or aliens, Steve Jobs feels like it could be the next great action movie at any time, if only based on how the film is written. Simultaneously a movie about technology moving forward, a multi-faceted relationship drama, a corporate war movie and a straightforward biography, Steve Jobs becomes more than anyone could have anticipated from the second movie about the mythological figure himself in three years.

    The strength of a Sorkin script rests entirely in the actors who deliver the material, and Steve Jobs has assembled one heck of a cast. Best known to American audiences as Magneto in the recent X-Men movies as well as for his Academy Award nominated role as the hellish master in 12 Years a Slave, Michael Fassbender is absolutely fantastic, capturing the genius of Jobs in just over two hours and adeptly showing how Jobs always strived to be the human equivalent of the perfect, closed-system design of his computers without success. His failures at perfection provide the highlights of the movie, particularly when they involve the personal life he sought to separate from the professional without success. Fassbender should be on the radars of everyone after this movie, and rightfully so. Although he has long been considered a high caliber actor, his performance as Jobs will push him into the mainstream and likely into the Oscar race.

    The other roles are equally well handled, with Kate Winslet as head of marketing and Jobs’ right-hand woman Joanna Hoffman, Seth Rogan as Jobs’ best friend and co-founder Steve “Woz” Wozniak, and Jeff Daniel as Apple CEO John Sculley each giving excellent performances and acting as best they can opposite the powerhouse that is Fassbender. Winslet in particular does work that is as stellar as usual, playing the foil to Jobs as well as a character with her own wants and desires, something a script like this doesn’t provide but Winslet’s acting does on her own. Another highlight is Katherine Waterston (Inherent Vice) as Jobs’ former lover and the mother of his daughter. In a completely unforgiving role that could have come across as wanting or weak, Waterston instead empowers a woman who is lost and in need, forced to beg but never truly wanting to do so.

    Danny Boyle, the Academy Award winning director of Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours does fine work with making the story come to life, and some of the inspired directing choices (including shooting on different types of film stock for each time periods) elevate the movie to a level that wouldn’t be achievable in other hands. However, Sorkin and his script are the true creative forces of the movie. Much like a staged drama, you don’t pay attention to the world surrounding the actors, you pay attention to the actors and what they’re saying. Boyle does great work at a thankless job, but Steve Jobs belongs to the screenplay and those who read it.

    Finally, I want to point out the score, composed by Daniel Pemberton. Also the composer of this summer’s The Man from UNCLE which I similarly praised for an excellent score, the music behind Steve Jobs does as excellent a job at telling the story as the script does, perfectly following the tone of the scenes and the setting of the action. Tying together the music of Bob Dylan, a symphony orchestra, and the modern technology infused punk scoring that has gotten Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor their recent fame, Pemberton crafts a tale about an icon through music much the same way Sorkin does the same through a screenplay. And although Pemberton hasn’t achieved the level of fame that other recent composers have, I see a bright future for him, especially if his work continues to sound as good as Steve Jobs does.

    Steve Jobs is a great movie. It does wonderful things that would never be expected from a film about a technology guru but, much like the so called “Facebook movie” that became the fantastic (and Sorkin-scripted) The Social Network, Steve Jobs rises above its narrow appeal base. According to a 2012 poll conducted by CNBC, 55% of American households have at least one Apple product, and I’d say at least everyone in that 55% percent along with many of those who don’t buy Apple will find something to enjoy in Steve Jobs. We owe Steve Jobs, the modern god of technology, the man behind the computer. We owe it Steve Jobs.


    Liam’s Rating: 5/5 Stars

    Steve Jobs. Directed by Danny Boyle. Starring Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, and Jeff Daniels. 2hr 2min. Rated R for language. Now Playing at Sayville Cinemas!

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