Bridge of Spies review
A war about intelligence
Over the course of the filmmaker’s storied career, no other director received more acclaim for World War II projects than Steven Spielberg. Maybe he got off to a rocky start with 1979’s 1941, but one can’t deny the success of the director’s later WWII-centric films: Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Empire of the Sun, and the first three films of his Indiana Jones quadrilogy. The director’s newest project involves a war during which he grew up, the Cold War—the setting for other movies of his (if you consider the détente part of the war) like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Munich, and Catch Me If You Can. He even started his filmmaking career during the Cold War. Despite Spielberg’s talent for making frenetic, frenzied battlefields of the past look real on screen, he approaches the challenge of a film covering a war without heavy artillery and soldiers, or very little “action” at all. With Bridge of Spies, Spielberg demonstrates his ability drawing slow, dire suspense to an exemplary degree.
Two-time Oscar-winner Tom Hanks teams up with the talented director for a fourth collaboration after Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me If You Can, and The Terminal. In Bridge of Spies, Hanks stars as real-life successful insurance attorney, James Donovan, living in Brooklyn at the height of the Cold War. When the U.S. detains a suspected Soviet spy named Rudolf Abel in the opening sequence, the task ultimately falls on Donovan to legally represent Abel. Hanks delivers yet another captivating performance as a relatable everyman, almost certainly gaining awards attention again this year. Despite his high-standing as a lawyer, he lives with his wife and children on a residential neighborhood in New York. Despite his success as an insurance attorney, Donovan still can’t win a criminal case defending Abel against a stacked deck. So then, what does America decide for its newly-sentenced criminal? With his insurance background, Donovan points out the benefits in holding on to an alleged Soviet spy as opposed to outright execution. Will the U.S. agree?
Bridge of Spies fills itself with numerous supporting roles for characters to interact with Donovan on all sides: U.S., U.S.S.R., G.D.R., etc. However, only one supporting performer steals the scene every time he appears on screen—celebrated English stage actor Mark Rylance, winner of two Olivier awards and three Tonys. Rylance (The Gunman, “Wolf Hall”) plays Abel, the alleged spy in desperate need of legal counsel, with quiet grace and dignity—never losing his temper, raising his voice, or fearing consequences. Rylance performs so slyly as Abel that one never really understands just how involved the character is with the Soviet Union, a testament to the actor’s ability to make his audience care more about the performance than the plot and setting. Consider him your early favorite for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars in 2016.
Bridge of Spies places Donovan in terrifying circumstances with horrifying implications despite the complete lack of bloody battlefields and booming explosions. Imagine the CIA telling you that you must cross the Berlin Wall over to the East side and locate the other party of a prisoner exchange while avoiding gangs and other desperate types—and all of this must happen alone.While Donovan and Abel’s story takes the majority of screen time, Spielberg also shows the audience a harrowing plane crash over Russia that results in the capture of an American pilot as well as an American student getting detained in East Berlin. With two young Americans across enemy lines, how will the U.S. government bring them home? And how do they tie in with Donovan and Abel?
Steven Spielberg proves that he still holds all the right moves when it comes to quality filmmaking, showing that he can keep finding new ways to capture suspense and hold the audience’s attention. This time he does it in the Cold War during a complex prisoner exchange between the United States and its enemies at the time. The director teams up with iconic movie star Tom Hanks and stage champion Mark Rylance to make a tense, anxious major motion picture about the value of human life in the middle of a war about information.