James Ivory and Ismail Merchant are better with the repressed emotions of Brits than Americans, but their track record eliciting memorable performances remains intact with Mr. & Mrs. Bridge. Though the film's real-life husband-and-wife team, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, were both roundly praised for their work, Woodward is the real standout, as the timid housewife whose few gestures toward independence get matter-of-factly squashed by her stern and humorless husband. Woodward is on the losing end of so many tiny skirmishes, most focused around the simple goals of lightening the mood and making people happy, that she eventually misplaces all of her resistance mechanisms. What's left is the apologetic laughter at her own foolishness, which Woodward acts with the perfect blend of practiced social grace and ingrained humiliation. Newman should be commended for accepting a part that's such a departure from his usual onscreen persona, but the performance is not without strain. It registers as so stiff and unyielding that one wonders whether it's Newman or the character who can't loosen up. A crucial flaw is that the characters never undergo transformation, a usual staple in narrative filmmaking; this could be because the script lacks spine and momentum, existing more as a series of illuminating windows into the Bridge world than a structured story. Merchant's story does produce telling observations about the inertia of idle American socialites, but they don't crystallize in a way that would deliver the film to lasting importance.