Peter Suderman on Steven Spielberg and Bridge of Spies


I wrote about Steven Spielberg's new Cold War spy thriller, Bridge of Spies, and the long, slow shift in Spielberg's perspective as a director from an awe-struck childlike viewpoint to a more protective parental viewpoint, over at Vox.

Here's how it starts:

Midway through director Steven Spielberg's new historical thriller Bridge of Spies,there's a scene in which the movie's protagonist, lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks), explains to his young son why he's chosen to defend a Soviet spy in American court.

Donovan's decision to not only take the case but vigorously pursue the spy's defense has caused him to face intense criticism from his community, and his family are among those who can't seem to understand why he did it; even his wife has questioned why he's so committed to the case. But Donovan explains to his son that in America, everyone deserves a fair hearing, one that follows the essential rules laid out in the Constitution.

What's important to understand about the scene is that Donovan is not just explaining himself to his son. He's explaining himself to the audience — justifying his actions to viewers who might themselves be skeptical.

No relationship is more important to Spielberg the relationship between parents and their children — specifically, the relationship between fathers and their sons. In some form or another, that relationship is at the core of nearly all of Spielberg's films.

The gulf between parents and their children helps explain Spielberg's relationship with his audience, too. In his early years, Spielberg tended to present his stories from a child's vantage point — full of awe and excitement and terror at the unknown. But over time, he's shifted his perspective to that of the protective parent whose biggest fear is seeing his children harmed.

Read the whole thing

Previous Vox columns: Ridley Scott's The Martian, and why October is such a great month for movies

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  1. Read the whole thing.

    Sorry, not going to Vox

    1. Do they pay enough that it’s worth tarnishing Suderman’s brand? I can’t remember a stranger decision by a Reason writer. Was there once someone who also wrote for Salon?

      1. Meh, the man has to make a living. But yeah, fuck Vox.

      2. “Do they pay enough that it’s worth tarnishing Suderman’s brand?”

        I don’t know whether to laugh or moan.

        A sizable chunk of commenters here moan about the writers like we’re cursed with rejects from Buzzfeed. Its not like they get some kind of overwhelming respect here that would compel them to reject the filthy lucre of Vox-dollars out of concern for their purist-libertarian reputation.

        And i’d guess Vox money is no different than anyone elses money = green. which is all a writer need concern themselves with. And its not like he sold his soul and is advocating single-payer healthcare over at Welfare State Weekly. Its a freaking movie review.

        1. There is accepting Vox money and there is the fact that Vox would not hire anyone who was not a dyed in the wool identity politics progressive.

          Funny how the timing of the hire corresponds with Sudderman’s “Everyone who supports Trump is a racist” article.

          By the way it is Comcast’s money now not Vox’s.

          1. I think the world could almost hea

            1. …hear the sound of when your brain cracked and you went Full-Retard.

    2. Ditto.

      Also, this seems to be a silly reading of the scene. If anything, the purpose of the scene was to show the character’s limitations to the audience after setting them up with his strengths. I won’t go any further so as not to spoil anything, but the “vigorous defense” is a stupid way of looking at it since the film barely spends more than ten minutes on it.

      (I will add that I saw this in a 800+ seat theater where there were probably no more than 30 patrons – this particular scene actually sent several of them into snoring. )

  2. Spielberg Has Daddy Issues – film at 11:00!

    Or something?

  3. …explains to his young son why he’s chosen to defend a Soviet spy in American court.

    I liked this better the first time I saw it, when it was Part 1 of John Adams.

    1. What an epic series! Mrs. Almanian and I watch it every 4th of July now. He’s still my favorite Founding Father ?, even though because he’s a miserable prick and even though he foisted the Alien and Sedition Acts on the young country.

      1. Almanian 2016: He wants seditious aliens in your bedroom!

  4. I think it looks good. I want to see it.

  5. Best scene in the film was Donovan’s “the reason you suck” speech to the CIA agent trying to get him to violate attorney client privelege.

  6. Suderman – you had that essay floating around you head for years, right? Just waiting for someone to pay you for it – right?

    All the Top Man praise and heavy marketing its had, is signalling to me that this is a snoozer. I’ll catch it on netflix in 3 months.

    Anyway, this is horror season – Vin Diesel has a witch killing movie out this week. Or some oldies but goodies. Certainly not some boring “serious” movie, that’s for sure.

  7. side note =

    I saw Black Mass the other day. Johnny Depp will probably win the Oscar. Otherwise the movie is slow and lacks much in the way of compelling narrative arc. James Whitey Bulger at the end is more or less still the scumbag you met in the beginning. And while there are a few brief moments along the way where you’re given an opportunity to sympathize with him a little (boo hoo his son dies of rare illness), you begin to tire of his penchant for murdering people around the time he strangles his friend’s stepdaughter for no discernible plot-reason. Wardrobe will probably also get a nod at the awards shows, as they do a great job placing the film in a late-70s/early 80s ‘scumbag boston’-world in a way that the corny “it saaounds jist like The Depaaated“-accents don’t quite do by themselves.

    1. shorter = its neither at the level of Goodfella’s or the Departed = more of a Boston Donnie Brasco with no second “heavyweight actor” to balance Depp’s great performance

  8. I’m about 1/3 the way through the book Strangers on a Bridge, which is a first-person account written by lawyer James Donovan shortly after the time of the events. It’s a difficult read because the prose is extremely dry and self-conscious. I think Donovan wrote the book not so much to tell the story, but to justify his actions (defending an actual KGB spy) soon after the end of the McCarthy era.

  9. Sudderman writes for Vox?


    I totally called this by the way.

    1. Another point:

      I think Sudderman stole the job Ben Kuchera wanted.

      Which is fucking hilarious.

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