TL;DR – A solid film but it makes you wish for more
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
The Bridge of Spies is the third historical film we have had in a row now and unlike Legend (see review) and Black Mass (see review) it is not a mob flick, instead, it is all about spies. As well as this, unlike the other two, it actually is really quite good. The Bridge of Spies is a film about the Cold War, a time of bipolar world powers bent on outmanoeuvring each other and the fear of nuclear obliteration was very real one. Within this context, both the US and the USSR mobilised extensive resources to spy on each other and inevitably people got caught.
The film starts with the arrest of Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) in Brooklyn New York in 1957. To make sure it appears that they give Rudolf a fair trial, the US Government asks James Donovan (Tom Hanks) to defend Rudolf. From here Donovan’s sense of duty forces him to go beyond a simple defence and puts him in both danger but also in a position to save lives.
The casting for the film is impeccable and given this is a Steven Spielberg film we are talking about it would actually be a surprise if it wasn’t. Tom Hanks gives a stoic and well-rounded performance as James Donovan who stays firm against the copious amounts of opposition. Mark Rylance’s performance of Rudolf Able is both quiet, yet powerful that makes it really easy to empathise with a Soviet spy. The rest of the cast all give great performances that feel natural given what is happening around them, this goes for even those actors that only appear in once scene in the film, which shows the strength of the directing.
Bridge of Spies has a wonderful way of increasing tension when it needs to, whenever the film starts to drag a little bit, something happens to move the plot along or to raise the stakes. Also, there are these little scenes where Donovan get hindered in some way, most notably when he is in East Berlin and gets roughed up by a street gang. The movie wisely decided to not subtitle the exchange that jumps from broken English to broken German to a bit of Russian I think so you can’t understand what is happening and you can cut the tension with a knife.
Another credit for the film is the attention to detail in recreating the world of the 1950s and 60s. From the clothes to the cars all of the props bring a real sense of time and place, which is critical for a period film. It also shows how much better it is to actual film in real physical sets, or in some cases the exact locations in real life.
There are a couple of issues, the U2 subplot feels like it was cut down for the theatrical release so we don’t get a good sense of Francis Gary Powers’ (Austin Stowell) motivations as to why he didn’t kill himself when his plane crashed. This is also the case for the Pryor subplot in the second half of the film.
In the end what Bridge of Spies shows is both the promise and the danger of US foreign policy. James Donovan epitomises all the good that can be found, the rule of law, fair treatment and doing the right thing even if it is the hard option. Unfortunately, at every point, he is stymied by people who are scared or simply favour pragmatism over ideology. When people and countries are scared they have the habit of making very bad decisions and we need more James Donovan’s, unfortunately, if history has been any guide or indeed if we look in the world today, there is not enough of them.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Directed by – Steven Spielberg
Written by – Matt Charman, Ethan Coen & Joel Coen
Starring – Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Austin Stowell & Alan Alda
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; Ireland: 12A; NZ: M; UK: 12A; USA: PG-13