Starring: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg team up again to bring us a true tale from the Cold War in Bridge of Spies.
It’s the height of the Cold War and in the midst of US and Soviet Union tension, a Soviet spy is captured in the US. Tom Hanks, playing lawyer James Donovan, is tasked with the defending the spy Rudolf Abel (played by Mark Rylance) and ensure he is afforded natural justice (or at least appears to be). Meanwhile a US pilot conducting a photography renaissance mission over Russia is shot down and captured and the CIA enlists the help of Hanks to negotiate a prisoner swap in east Berlin.
There is a certain standard expected from a Spielberg/Hanks film and Bridge of Spies meets that standard seemingly effortlessly. Supported by an excellent script, strong performances and an enveloping portrayal of the Cold War period in Berlin, Bridge of Spies is almost guaranteed quality – so long as you are not expecting an action-packed, spy thriller.
While action-packed it is not, Bridge of Spies is by all accounts, a thriller – but of the talking variety. The lack of action, and even espionage, is made up for by excellent tension filled dialogue, negotiations and court room exchanges. The outstanding screenplay written by the Cohen brothers and Matt Charman, will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout the run-time as Hanks negotiates his way though a fragile environment and evokes impassioned defenses of the rule of law.
Hanks is the only real ‘movie star’ of the film, which works fine, as his presence alone is enough to pull the story along. Hanks is more than comfortable playing the sharp and morally astute lawyer, however he never really needs to extend himself – the role feels like a walk in the park for Hanks. While his character never succumbs to emotional breakdowns or fist-hammering shouting matches, such scenes would be unnecessary and detract from the telling of the story. Spielberg makes a sensible decision to keep the film running at a steady but even keel and not over-dramatize his actors.
Aside from Hanks, the standout of the film is undoubtedly Mark Rylance as the captured Soviet Spy. Rylance gives an endearing portrayal of the quiet, stoic but charming soviet officer. His scenes opposite Hanks are nothing short of engaging. The remaining cast perform admirably but never rise to go toe-to-toe with Hanks’ and Rylance’s presence.
Spielberg, as expected, paints a vivid picture of Berlin at the time of the Cold War, with the events taking place during the construction of the Berlin wall. Spielberg’s direction also has a way of tugging on your emotional heartstrings and evoking a response. Although Bridge of Spies is much more emotionally subdued than many of his other films, don’t be surprised to find a bubbling of emotion before the final credits roll.
As for flaws, there are not many. Spielberg tends a rely a bit too heavily on backlighting and some scenes look so shiny they resemble an episode of Days of our Lives. In addition, although Bridge of Spies is thrilling as a ‘talkie’, the film would have benefited greatly by playing up to its title and incorporating some more ‘spying’ into the plot. The opening espionage sequence is brilliant, but unfortunately not seen again after the capture of Abel. A trickle of similar scenes of espionage throughout the film would have increased its entertainment value tenfold. Nevertheless, Bridge of Spies is reliably excellent and is another example of why Spielberg is a master of his craft.
Bridge of Spies can be purchased here.