Joho the Blog"Bridge of Spies" and Spielberg's American heroes - Joho the Blog

"Bridge of Spies" and Spielberg's American heroes

Bridge of Spies” continues Steven Spielberg‘s conscious (?) attempt to refashion what it means to be an American hero. It’s impeccably made, beautifully acted, and a compelling story. It’s more muted than Spielberg at his most exuberant (Jurassic Park, Jaws, Tintin), but it was a good night out at the movies.

And once again it’s Spielberg giving us the counterpoint to the cartoon heroism of Indiana Jones. It’s Spielberg being Frank Capra (e.g., Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) and Tom Hanks being Jimmy Stewart — both with a defining ambiguity. As in Schindler’s List, Munich, Saving Private Ryan, Amistad and Lincoln, to be moral is to be morally conflicted, which for Spielberg is a big step up from being right. As in Amistad and Lincoln, to be an American hero is to take the Constitutional promise of equality under the law as what binds us into a nation, and then to be conflicted about its application. In particular, it is to worry about the conflict between the rule of law that one has accepted as constitutive of the nation and the exceptional worth of every individual. It is the exact opposite of Indy facing the crazy swordmaster, shrugging his shoulders, and shooting him from a distance, and walking away. Tom Hanks never shrugs his shoulders in a Spielberg movie.

 


 

By the way, when it says at the beginning that it’s based on true events (truthy spoilers here), it’s not some wild fictionalization. All the major elements are true. Knowing that makes the movie more interesting.

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