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“Bridge of Spies”-wary

A new film from Steven Spielberg is always a reason to pay attention, but I believe most critics and audiences give him way too much of a pass on his weaker work. I’m probably guilty of that myself a little bit, in fact. It’s difficult to pan the work of someone who so universally holds the label of a GREAT director. I mean, this is the creator of “Duel”, “Jaws”, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, and “E.T”. And that’s just his first dozen years, or so! Expand that list with “The Color Purple”, “Empire of the Sun”, “Jurassic Park”, “Schindler’s List”, and “Saving Private Ryan”, and you’ll find most folks holding SS up as a genius. And maybe he is.

But, for my money, that latter quintet is the group of his lesser quality movies, and the beginning of Mr. Spielberg’s penchant for getting sentimental and awards-safe. That doesn’t mean they don’t contain some great work–but I still believe that those first five I’ve listed are the better films. His latest five has also been a decidedly mixed bag.

2008’s “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” is almost universally recognized as the worst “Raiders” sequel. Nuke the fridge, indeed. 2011’s “The Adventures of Tintin” was a technical marvel, without much heart. While the same year’s “War Horse” was considered sappy and overbaked by many. 2012’s “Lincoln” won an Oscar for the grand performance of Daniel Day-Lewis as our 16th President, but it was also labeled stodgy and overlong.

And now there’s “Bridge of Spies”, with a screenplay from the mega-talented Coen Brothers, and starring national treasure Tom Hanks, Amy Ryan, and the legendary Alan Alda. Can’t go wrong, right? And most of the early notices have been raves. But I’m skeptical. I’ve read enough detractors of the movie now, to wonder if this is going to be just another bloated, glossy, Oscar-hungry release, from the most likely past his prime helmer.

So, I’m wary. And I’ve really been looking forward to this one, too. Which makes me hope my intuition is wrong. However, it’s become increasingly clear to me, that the almost septuagenarian Mr. Spielberg has quite possibly lost a step–for good. “Bridge of Spies” opens nationwide on October 16th.

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