Bridge of Spies

Bridge of Spies photo starrating-4stars.jpgTom Hanks and Steven Spielberg are back. The pair have a history of working together. You’re probably aware they have collaborated before as actor/director, but this is actually their fourth movie together. Saving Private Ryan (1998), Catch Me If You Can (2002), and The Terminal (2004) were the others. With Bridge of Spies, the two are truly in their element.

American James B. Donovan is an insurance lawyer. He’s appointed to defend Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a man arrested as a Soviet spy. His peers in the Brooklyn Bar Association have chosen Donovan for this thankless task. He assisted in the 1945 Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals so it’s not completely out of left field. The time is 1957 at the height of the Cold War and American hatred toward communists is at a fever pitch. Which is why now, more than ever, Abel must receive the appearance of an equitable trial. Donovan takes his responsibility very seriously much to everyone’s surprise. This includes the judge, the prosecuting attorney, his firm, even his own family. His efforts to seek acquittal are roundly greeted with anger and derision.

Tom Hanks personifies the lawyer as a do-gooding crusader, not unlike Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, another idealist. The thing is, the government’s case against Abel is overwhelming and indisputable. The fact that the evidence points to the defendant’s guilt in this incident is kind of beside the point. Everyone deserves a fair trail. The noble campaign in defending an unpopular defendant is similar. Tom Hanks exudes dignity and class as an ordinary man thrust into extraordinary circumstances His unfailing commitment to doing the right thing, despite widespread opposition, is almost too good to be true. And yet he radiates such sincerity that Hanks captures our empathy where we warmly embrace this man. We champion his cause, if not his client.

Actor Mark Rylance inhabits the role of the Soviet spy as sort of an enigma. He doesn’t say much and what he does say is without a Russian accent. He displays a calm, even carefree demeanor.

James Donovan: Aren’t you worried?
Rudolf Abel: Would it help?

That straight-faced line gets repeated a few times, always to amusing effect. The screenplay penned by Joel and Ethan Coen along with Matt Charman crackles. Mark Rylance (The Other Boleyn Girl, Anonymous) is an English theater actor, unfamiliar to mainstream audiences. That is until now. This performance show get him some justified attention.

Now if that were the whole plot, it would still have been a good one. Except the saga isn’t over. That’s only half of it.  A few years later in 1960, Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) is an American whose U-2 spy plane is shot down while flying a “reconnaissance mission” over Soviet Union airspace. The CIA sends Donovan abroad to negotiate the release our spy in exchange for theirs. The complications surrounding the tricky negotiations don’t rely on breathtaking action but they are fascinating nonetheless. Spielberg takes some liberties with events and reactions. For example, Donovan’s family did receive threatening letters in real life, but his home was never riddled with bullets by an angry citizen. I guess that is within the realm of dramatic license. Not too objectionable. Steven Spielberg directs with the confidence of a master. He has a fondness for historical epics (Amistad, War Horse, Lincoln). He takes what could have been a dull tale of governmental machinations and imbues it with the necessary amount of reverence and flash. This is compelling stuff but with a measured take. By taking a pivotal Cold War moment that was shrouded in secrecy, he deftly handles the problems of a perplexing storyline and distills it into something entertaining to watch.

10-17-15

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15 Responses to “Bridge of Spies”

  1. Totally missed the bit about him having some experience in the Nazi war criminals trials in ’45, that certainly helps explain partly why he was marked for this mission. (If it wasn’t stated in the movie my research wasn’t done extensively enough lol). Yeah, this was a good movie. Par for the course for Spielberg and Hanks. Nice work here

    • It was mentioned in the movie. I think in the scene with Alan Alda if I’m not mistaken.

      As far as historical Spielberg pieces go, I liked this even more than Lincoln and Munich. There may be others but those immediately come to mind.

  2. smilingldsgirl Says:

    I seem to be the only one that thought this was just ok. To me it seemed very conventional and a little dull. There were a lot of plot points picked up and then never mentioned again.
    But it was well made and acted by Hanks but I nodded off twice so that’s not a good sign. I guess I will have to see it again because everyone else seems to see something I didn’t.

  3. Nice review. It’s a solid film by two masters; I wouldn’t call it epic or outstanding, but certainly worth the price of admission.

    • Epic implies something grand and this was just the opposite. It was exquisiste for those simple spoken interactions between characters. Those scenes with Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance are just wonderful.

  4. I’m seeing this on Halloween, and I’m very excited! Good review, glad to see Steven Spielberg has another great movie out. It seems like this and Steve Jobs are (currently) the frontrunners for Best Picture, and I’d really love to see Spielberg win again.

    • Steve Jobs, and to a lesser extent Bridge of Spies, have tanked so badly at the box office. Not sure if they still have the momentum for a Best Picture win anymore. Attention has turned to the upcomming Spotlight and Joy for now.

  5. I enjoyed it, technically it was near enough perfect, especially the period sets & costumes etc. I also liked that it was quite funny in parts. But as smilingldsgirl says it was only okay, I wasn’t riveted or bored. I liked it but can’t imagine I would see it again. 3 Stars from me.

  6. I loved this. It was well written and very well acted. Serious story also had a little comedy here and there. I liked that. Hope it garners some Oscar noms for Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance. 4 stars.

  7. Tom Hanks exudes so much dignity and class in this film. His character’s commitment to doing the right thing is so admirable. Like you say, it seems too good to be true, but with Hanks in the role, you never doubt his convictions for a second because of his sincerity. I also couldn’t agree more with your statement,”The complications surrounding the tricky negotiations don’t rely on breathtaking action but they are fascinating nonetheless.” This is mostly a movie about people in rooms talking, which should be boring, although it never is with Spielberg at the helm. As you say, he adds just the right amount of reverence and flash.

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