It is no accident that so many movies have come out centered on the same ideas and time period. The Cold War is a perfect analogy for so much of current politics and sentiment. Much like The Crucible in its day that held up the Salem witch trials as a mirror to society, films like Trumbo and Bridge of Spies, heck, even the current season of Transparent, hold up the McCarthy-era and Nazism as a mirror for modern times. They are all intended as lessons and warnings as much as entertainment.
Spielberg (Lincoln) delivers this film with a sure hand, disappearing behind the story, barely giving himself away. The aseptic-ness of the world, the perfection of even the most dilapidated scenes, is one of his few tells. Everything is so perfectly appointed as to feel clean. Though the sets are a little over-designed, the performances are subtle and real.
Tom Hanks (Cloud Atlas) was much made for this role. His unique brand of strength, business demeanor, and fatherliness helps drive the story, keeping it all on the rails. But despite its strong lead, it is Mark Rylance (Wolf Hall) that walks away with the movie. Rylance’s quiet, intense, and yet almost fatalistic performance is magnetic.
One thing that very much stood out in this story is that it doesn’t really include any women; it is a man’s world. It is worth mentioning that Amy Ryan (Birdman) vanishes into her role… I didn’t even recognize her till the credits… but it isn’t a character that is noted as more than window-dressing for Hank’s character. Ryan isn’t bad, the script just gives her nothing of real import to do other than “support her man” and run the household. Was that the truth of the matter in those days and that particular family? Maybe, but I’d have liked to see a bit more complexity given the actor and the creatives involved.
The story is engaging, and the construction of the script by the Coen brothers (Inside Llewyn Davis) and new-comer Charman is something wonderful to behold as all the bits come together. Even with the narrow lens on the period, the trip is very much worth taking and the messages very apropos to conversations and issues today.