Review: Bridge of Spies


DIR: Steven Spielberg • WRI: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Matt Charman Pro: Christoph Fisser, Steven Spielberg, Kristie Macosko Krieger, Marc Platt• DOP: Janusz Kaminski • ED: Michael Kahn • MUS: Thomas Newman • CAST: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan

When a film is directed by Steven Spielberg, stars Tom Hanks and is written in part by the Coen Brothers, you’d expect it at least to be solid. Maybe you go into the cinema with the expectation that none will hit the heights they hit during their peaks but you know you won’t be disappointed.

But the new drama, Bridge of Spies, is better than just decent. It enthrals and it moves you. It is one of the best films of the year so far, if not the best, and can stand beside anything these great filmmakers have done.

The drama is based around real-life events and Hanks plays James B. Donovan, a lawyer given the unenviable task of defending a Soviet spy caught plying his trade in America in the 1950s. Donovan’s colleagues in the US justice system pat him on the back and make a merry dance of showing how everyone in the USA gets a fair trial. But it is merely a formality to them and they are as bloodthirsty as anyone else in the country. However, it is no pretence to Donovan and he takes the job of defending his client very seriously. A bit too seriously for many people’s liking.

When you see the posters and the trailer for the film you’re promised nail-biting drama. It is packed full of gripping scenes but it is also a touching, moving, sweet and funny film in ways. And that’s a hard thing to get away with when you’re making a Cold War drama.

But they pull it off. It is both sad and uplifting but never melodramatic or sentimental. These guys are master storytellers and they’ve created another wonderful film. Hanks is sharp, convincing and funny. The writing is superb. And Spielberg is at his best. The first scene is a walking chase through New York and is directorial brilliance. It’s a joy to watch and will suck anyone into the film, even those reluctantly dragged to the cinema.

The first half is occupied with the Donovan’s defence of the spy, Rudolf Abel, played fantastically by Mark Rylance. It shows their relationship and its effects on the lawyer and his family. In the second half he goes to Berlin to negotiate a prisoner swap between the US and USSR.

Donovan is not content with just getting what his government wants. He also doesn’t stop until he’s gotten what he feels he can from the situation. In real life, Donovan was no different, after the swap in Berlin he was asked by John F. Kennedy to go to Cuba to negotiate the release of 1,000 prisoners. Donovan got 9,000.

Sometimes great acting lives in showing intense emotion on screen but Mark Rylance puts in a great performance without ever getting angry or emotional. His expression barely changes throughout the film, even as he faces the possibility of a death sentence. The actor has made his career on the stage rather than the screen but his quite performance makes his character endearing.

The film is really two stories ­– the defence and the prisoner swap. That could’ve made for a severed storyline but the two are blended so well together it doesn’t matter. The writing plays a huge part in this as it weaves recurring and connecting pieces of dialogue and images throughout the film.

It’s still not clear who’ll win Oscars early next year. The bookmaker Paddy Power so far has Bridge of Spies as an outsider but if Spielberg and Hanks pick up more awards for their collections, nobody will be able to rightly begrudge them.

Colm Quinn

141 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Bridge of Spies is released 27th November 2015

Bridge of Spies – Official Website



Cinema Review: Breathe In



DIR: Drake Doremus • WRI: Drake Doremus, Ben York Jones • PRO: Steven M. Rales, Mark Roybal, Jonathan Schwartz, Andrea Sperling • DOP: John Guleserian • ED: Jonathan Alberts  DES: Katie Byron • CAST: Guy Pearce, Felicity Jones, Amy Ryan, Mackenzie Davis

Drake Droemus’ Like Crazy was the toast of Sundance 2011, with the film and star Felicity Jones scooping the Grand and Special Jury Prizes respectively. Like Crazy was praised for mixing an extremely naturalistic approach to dialogue with a classically romcom sort of plot. Almost all the dialogue was improvised, leaving the film heavy on charm but light on plot and character development. Droesmus’ latest film, also starring Jones, is a little more scripted and a lot more ambitious. The plot is, once again, by numbers, and the pressure is on the players and the cinematography to make the film the harrowing mood piece it wants to be.

Keith Reynolds (Guy Pearce) is a music teacher suffering from a standard case of wasted ambition. As a youth, he tried to make it as a musician in New York City. Once his daughter Lauren (Mackenzie Davis) was born he had to abandon that dream, and now he’s more or less settled. Then a British accent arrives in the form of 18-year-old exchange student Sophie (Jones). She’s actually staying in the Reynolds’ houshold, a remarkably uncontrived-seeming contrivance, and breakfasts etc. get fraught and whispery. Keith’s wife Megan collects cookie jars; she also fails to understand her husband’s inner life, dismissing his cello playing as a mere hobby. Sophie is a pianist, and about to face choices similar to the ones Keith faced at her age. Keith is due a mid-life crisis and it looks as though it may coincide with Sophie’s coming-of-age.

The basic plots of Like Crazy and Douchebag (Droemus’ 2010 comedy) were clichéd, almost perversely so. The former was as standard a romantic comedy as can be – beach walks, bumper car rides – with the improvised dialogue gimmick; Douchebag, an indie road movie, a sort of Sideways Greenberg with mumbling. In Breathe In, as in those two films, the organic-seeming way that little conversations unfold exists in tension with the stubborn need for plot and character development. I’m sure it’s pretty hard to even comprehend a character’s arc when you’re forced to literally make it up as you go along. This is a problem with Doremus’ films in general. Indie cinema often sacrifices plot in favour of a sort of patterning, a series of fractals; a co-operation of nuanced acting and cinematography that can sometimes give a far fuller sense of a character and atmosphere than the old three-act. But Breathe In is just too loose to make it work.

That’s not to say that the actors don’t try their hardest. Pearce is relentlessly adaptable, and he does the mumbly patois like he’s never heard the name Felicia Jollygoodfellow. Sophie is there to represent Keith’s past to him, to whisper vague profundities from the edge of the frame, but Jones’ charm goes a way towards filling up her somewhat underwritten character. We know from real life that the Keith-Sophie dynamic isn’t really a romantic one, that they usually use each other as excuses to work out, or just act out, their selfishness and immaturity. We plumb Keith’s depths fairly thoroughly and float around there for a while (and you don’t need armbands) while Sophie stays irritatingly enigmatic, Jones doing her best to define those blurred edges. She and the camera are allies in this, both bobbing around Keith as he stares out windows and fails to recover from a bad case of adolescence. John Guleserian’s cinematography is superb, all dark tones and impossibly fluid camera movements. But as the film goes on, any beauty tends to be dispersed by Keith’s increasingly manchild-ish presence.

There is, admittedly, great verisimilitude in the lack of incident and the halting dialogue. The skill with which Droemus directs improvisations is obvious and, judging by his previous efforts, hard-won. It sometimes seems as though it’s entirely up to the process of interlocution to reveal things organically; that even the actors don’t know when they’re going to drop in that bit of information that will further the plot. But the plot is the problem. American indie cinema has far too much time for the sad sack might’ve-been; I thought that Greenberg and The Squid and the Whale had stopped anyone from ever taking this sort of story seriously again, but apparently not.

Darragh John McCabe


98 mins
Breathe In is released on 19th July 2013



Cinema Review: Jack Goes Boating

chasing Céline and Julie

DIR: Philip Seymour Hoffman • WRI: Robert Glaudini • PRO: Beth O’Neil, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub, Emily Ziff • DOP: W. Mott Hupfel III • ED: Brian A. Kates • DES: Thérèse DePrez • CAST: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Ryan,  John Ortiz

An extreme close-up of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s typically hangdog face opens his directorial debut, accompanied by suitably atmospheric music; a combination that promises sublime storytelling and impeccable acting. His character, the titular Jack, is overweight and under-confident, working for his uncle as a limo driver alongside his best friend, Clyde (John Ortiz), and dependent on his headphones as a separation from the outside world. Jack operates below the level of socially inept to the point of seeming borderline autistic, and Clyde works hard to peel back the layers of dirty pseudo-dreadlocks and moody reliance on reggae music. Clyde’s wife Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega) works for a funerary guru – who speaks at conferences in how best to deal with grief, and who has hired Connie (Amy Ryan) to help sell ‘grief packages’. Connie seems to be on Jack’s level, staggeringly awkward and socially terrified – on the surface, they would appear to be a perfect fit, and it is to this end that Clyde and Lucy engineer a dinner at their home.

From there the story enters into a familiar world of angst, slow-pace, and conversations that mean everything and yet mean nothing – in other words, the world of the prototypical indie-movie romance. Were there bets as to Hoffman’s first jump behind the camera, this type of film would have been a front-runner – which is not to say that it’s a bad movie, it’s just that bit too predictable. Based on a much-lauded play of the same name, the writer Robert Glaudini also adapted it for screen – but the adaptation process is incomplete. The movie still feels like a play on wheels, and stutters repeatedly through overwrought language and inconsequential climaxes. Building to crescendos, then dropping back to dull hums, the movie limps from interaction to interaction, occasionally offering that sweet and innocent beauty that actors like Hoffman and Ryan can deliver so perfectly. While their romance buds and blooms despite both their awkwardness and incapacity for normative interplay, Clyde and Lucy’s marriage trips and falls in their wake – beautifully acted and wonderfully played, it still lacks a driving force, and it feels as though you’re dragged to the finish.

Hoffman creates a New York of indeterminate time – he listens to a tape walkman, wanders dark and gritty streets reminiscent of pre-Giuliani filthiness, the drug-use even has a faint mid-80s feel, while any mention of politics or 9/11 are noticeable by their absence. The occasional straying into public spaces outside of Clyde and Lucy’s home only serves to highlight the claustrophobic relationships dealt with in the film, and Lucy and Connie’s work taints their characters so that the aura of death and destruction hovers nearby. Intense though the movie is, however, most of the action actually hinges on the cooking of some pork chops, and Jack’s swimming lessons at the local Y.

Aiming to revel in the banality of life, Hoffman has created a movie that feels so much like a play that the suspension of disbelief is a struggle. The awkwardness becomes painful, and the characters, while wonderfully acted and beautifully portrayed, end up leaving you cold as the film limps towards a lack of resolution. Enjoyable, to the extent that anything involving Hoffman will always have merit, and beautifully directed, Jack Goes Boating serves more as a confident CV entry for a budding director rather than an entertaining accomplishment.

Sarah Griffin

Jack Goes Boating is released on 4th November 2011

Jack Goes Boating – Official Website


Green Zone

Green Zone

DIR: Paul Greengrass • WRI: Brian Helgeland • PRO: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lloyd Levin • DOP: Barry Ackroyd • ED: Christopher Rouse • DES: Dominic Watkins • CAST: Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Amy Ryan, Brendan Gleeson

You’ve seen the Green Zone trailer? Sadly, then, you have seen Green Zone. God knows what possessed the marketing campaign to congregate the major revelations of Paul Greengrass’ new project into the two-minute trailer. However, there you have it – expect no big surprises when watching the finished product.

Unless of course you were expected it to be pants. Green Zone is not pants. It’s mature, intelligent, relevant, well researched and well executed. But you probably already knew that from the trailer too. Regardless, you’re in for a treat when you sidle into your seat for a suspense filled 115 minutes.

Green Zone is riddled with more plot-points than bullets. Despite its premise as a war-film, it’s in its element when fairly depicting the intricacies of a crumbling nation and its bumbling liberator. Matt Damon depicts the frustrated Chief Roy Miller, who investigates the seedy underbelly of political motivations surrounding the Iraq War. Greengrass makes a supreme effort, depicting parties openly, allowing, nay, challenging the viewers to make up their own minds about who fits the archetypal ‘Good Guy/Bad Guy’ roles.

The threat of a gung-ho, pro-American, anti-Iraq feature disperses as readily as the presence of WMDs. Despite the Damon/Greengrass lineage with the latter Bourne movies, the action takes a back seat here, making way for a taught, gripping narrative. That’s comparatively speaking – there are still healthy doses of gunfire and violence. The warfare is tight, efficient, realistic and adds to the immersive atmosphere.

But, alas, it wouldn’t be a Greengrass production without the notorious ‘shaky-cam’ covering the action unintelligibly at preposterous angles. Preferred by filmmakers, yet detested by fans, Greengrass makes no attempt to undo the damage his signature technique has caused action scenes, since 2004’s Bourne Supremacy. Thankfully, considering Green Zone is story-driven, not action orientated, this is easily forgiven.

Green Zone labours one point particularly – honesty. Honesty between soldiers, citizens and administrations. Deception prompts the bulk of the story’s strife. Refreshingly, despite its base in convoluted politics, the message prevails that honesty is the best policy; foreign or otherwise.

Green Zone attacks the audience’s recent memory, their biases regarding the Middle East, their apathy for war-torn nations and forces them to consider other viewpoints. It does so without pretension, and offers almost two hours of fine visuals and solid storytelling as reward.

Jack McGlynn
(See biog here)

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Green Zone is released12 March 2010
Green Zone – Official Website