Review of 'Bridge of Spies'

bridge_of_spies.jpg It is 1957 and the height of the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union. Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) has been arrested in New York for being a spy. Insurance lawyer James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) is hired as legal council for Abel and soon shows his integral belief in fair play and justice. With the judge having decided Abel's guilt before the trial starts the court decision at the end is a forgone conclusion despite there being significant gaps in the prosecutors case however Donovan does manage to have Abel avoid the death penalty and instead he is sentenced to a jail term. Meanwhile, Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) the pilot of an American spy plane is captured after crashing in the Soviet Union. Donovan soon finds himself in wintery East Berlin negotiating the trading of Abel for Powers…but there is a lot more going on than it first appears.

Before watching “Bridge of Spies” I was afraid it would turn into yet another film along the lines of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” which I found to be a hugely boring affair despite the wonderful cast including Gary Oldman as “George”. In Bridge I was wonderfully surprised: The pace of the film is lively and the plot keeps you guessing all along the way along with a good amount of action. Here we follow the gradual conversion of a moral man into the world of political navigation and negotiation, a world most of us never experience yet feels tremendously believable here. The vision of East Berlin on the eve of the building of the wall is bleak and brutal with no punches pulled, the innocent mercilessly mown down if they get in the way or if they simply want a better life in the west. A lot of effort has gone into making this film convincing, drawing us into the events as they unfold through Donovan's innocent eyes which, at our distance from these events is largely our own as it is difficult for most living now to imagine the strong any-Soviet sentiment at the time. This is a film of massive amounts of tension throughout: Political, and personal which keeps us glued to the screen to see what will happen next.

The principal actors do an amazing job though I have to say Hanks does not entirely convince in his somewhat instantaneous conversion into a man of international diplomacy his character having only previously really experienced insurance law. Hanks is committed though with his cool and determined portrayal of the lawyer put between a rock and a hard place. Mark Rylance as the Soviet spy reminds me of the “Birdman of Alcatraz” in his somewhat distant, offhand, treatment of the events around him, forever cool and seeming to care little for what happens to him. This is a much more nuanced performance leaving us completely sure of his motives or even his actual involvement.

Not exactly a happy film but one that entertains and enlightens as to an unusual political time that has now almost faded in our collective memory. Great drama with some great acting though it is a bit long.

Rating: “Nearly perfect, but not quite”

Review Date: 2021-01-29

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Studio: Dreamworks Pictures

Year: 2015

Length: 142 minutes

Genre: Melodrama

Other reviewed films by Steven Spielberg: