We continue on this journey through the films nominated for Best Picture. Now, we take a look at the film directed by Steven Spielberg, nominated for 6 Oscars. Today I present to you a translation of a review I wrote in Spanish for the Chilean release of the film. It’s a bit short, but it sums up my feelings for this fine film.
by Jaime Grijalba.
The new Spielberg film starts with a sequence that is among the best in his entire career, and could be talked about in the same breath as other first scenes that blew people’s minds at the time, like it was the classic first shark attack in ‘Jaws’ (1975, Spielberg) or the Normandie scene in ‘Saving Private Ryan’ (1998, Spielberg). This new opening scene follows a man, played perfectly by Mark Rylance, doing a a strange but apparently common routine, the strangeness of the ambient that surrounds him, more than what the precises actions that he realizes: paints a self-portrait, gets a phone call, gets out of his apartment, takes the subway, sits on a bench to paint the scenery, lifts up a coin that is glued to the underpart of the bench where he was sitting, he goes back home, he opens the package with a razor blade, quickly getting microfilm that he has to see through a looking glass. The FBI suddenly comes to his house, and is accused of being a Russian spy. It’s the 50’s, we’re in the midst of the Cold War, and in a precise manner, Spielberg has shown us how it was to live and breathe in the world of a spy, far away from the British fantasies of gadgets and luxury cars, as it is a minute and silent labor. Spielberg in one sequence has managed to break down a generalized movie myth, showing the truth in the shots and the precise editing.
Lamentably the rest of the film never achieves that level of perfection that can be found in its first five minutes. The introduction of Tom Hanks as protagonist, and even if he does a good job, can’t compare to the interest that the character of Rylance commands, with all its mysteries. Everything he says is spectacular, as everything seems to repercute in the future actions, being a Russian spy, and with his witty comments regarding American traditions, which at the same time is the biggest clue towards the authorship of the script, written by the Coen brothers, which give that character the comical gravity, unavoidable in each scene with his character.
It is a shame that finally in the little over two hours of film, such a small percentage of the film is truly about Ryland’s character, being the first half about the trial in which he is accused of being a spy, and the lawyer that he is assigned to, played by Tom Hanks. The film does enter ethical discussions about the notion of justice, specially in war time, and it’s entertaining to see such a profound discussion about what’s correct to do with “the enemy” in these times where we only seem to wait for the next war in which the country up north will enter, a war that maybe started much much before with spies. In a cold manner,and with information that nowadays can be found with one click. It’s Spielberg in his classical style, evocative of a director like Otto Preminger in his judicial and war dramas.