It is the height of the Cold War. A Russian spy (Rylance) is arrested in Brookyln, and an American U-2 spy plane is shot down over Russia, and its’ pilot is captured. An American lawyer (Hanks) is charged with the impossible: to negotiate the exchange of the two prisoners between the two countries as tensions mount.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda and Austin Stowell.
In recent months, which have seen the fallout of the Paris attacks, the war on Isis and the maneuverings of America and Russia, Steven Spielberg’s Cold War drama Bridge of Spies has definitely been released at an appropriate time.
The acclaimed director tracks us through the trials, telephone conversations and terse meetings between the characters as they strive towards their goals; the film is meditative but with a slight tinge of unease which keeps us engaged with the politics and issues throughout.
Surprisingly Bridge of Spies also has an undercurrent of welcome levity that Spielberg cultivates, particularly between James B. Donovan (Hanks) and Rudolph Abel (Rylance), but not so much that it detracts from the grimness of the time.
Donovan is beholden to the horrors that the Berlin Wall enforces, in a scene that remains one of the most memorable in the film, especially so because it is poignantly recalled near to the conclusion.
Additionally these scenes in question, and the entirety of the film as well, are wonderfully realised; each location and character is meticulously staged, generating authentic and attractive results, from the 1950’s/60’s family home to the stark and snowy streets of East Berlin that the determined Donovan traverses.
Tom Hanks is well suited here. Competently playing the idealistic and (typically) clean cut American citizen struggling against larger structures, he brings a dash of exasperated wit to the proceedings, though admittedly, nothing that we haven’t already seen from him before.
Worthy of mention is Mark Rylance’s understated Abel, who remains tight lipped and inscrutable for the majority of the movie in a brilliantly subtle performance that contrasts nicely with Hanks.
Yet for all the willingness on show, the film, like Thomas Newman’s unmemorable score, somehow never distinguishes itself; the movie is perhaps undermined by the fact that the actual negotiation between Donovan and his German and Russian counterparts feels like it has been simplified somewhat, and each part of the discussions easily unfolds.
And whilst there is mistrust and discord brewing between the characters, the gravity and threat of the situations is un-sustained, and the events begin to extend towards a predictably neat and patriotic conclusion.
Therefore Bridge of Spies is an old school espionage film which has been made by admirable talents, yet it is not the sum of its parts, lacking the needed edge and risk to make it unique. However, that does not detract from the fact that it remains a wholesome movie which is intriguing, entertaining, and, of course, relevant.