Bridge of Spies brings together the formidable team of Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks in an engrossing true-life tale of espionage during the Cold War era. There could possibly be hundreds of such tales in history, but only St. Steven can make it into an Oscar-bait movie experience. Unlike most complicated spy thrillers which involve a lot of discrete phone calls from phone-boxes and driving around in taxis trying to get rid of the tail, Spielberg takes you for a ride laid with logical reasoning and narrative coherence.
In the year 1957, hostilities between USA and USSR are at an all-time high after the Rosenberg executions. In Brooklyn, a USSR spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) is arrested on charges of stealing US military documents and passing on to Kremlin. James Donovan (Tom Hanks) a successful insurance lawyer is approached by the government to defend Abel. Donovan initially reluctant, defends Abel unsuccessfully in the court trial though he does succeed in getting a reprieve from the death penalty.
Donovan is a true patriot who believes in the Constitution and his scenes with other characters show the reality where most people are simply interested in mouthing statements which nod to the book but don’t really wish to play by the word, a reflection on our current era. It will be hard to miss on the many layered hints in Bridge of Spies which make a statement of our current world. During the course of trial and appeals, the two form a bond of sorts as Donovan warms to Abel who wins him over with his deadpan sense of humor and shrewd intelligence.
Parallel to the course of the trial is the story of Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell), who is recruited by the CIA to conduct secret sorties over the Soviet Union to gather intelligence. During his flight he is shot down, arrested and tortured in a manner which leaves a reminder of America’s recent incidents of torture. The capture leads to frantic efforts by the US to secure Powers return, Bridge of Spies is essentially two stories, first the court room drama and second the thriller of the prisoner exchange in East Berlin. Donovan is brought in to broker a deal between the two Cold War foes to execute the prisoner exchange. During the course of which he also has to tackle the third entity of East Germany and affect a prisoner release as well at the same time.
There could possibly hundreds of such tales in history, but only St. Steven can make it into an Oscar-bait movie experience.
Bridge of Spies screenplay is co-written by the Coen Brothers, which would lead one to assume it will have its fair share of quirkiness but strangely its pretty much straightforward story with barely a hint of the quirkiness one associates with the Oscar-winning duo. Matt Charman‘s influence looks to have won the day as the Coen’s off-kilter sense of humor is much more tempered in the movie. Though a more tightly focused screenplay would have resulted in a more leaner and riveting movie fare, it is unlikely you will be complaining about it.
Tom Hanks brings to the table his years of acting forte, leading the viewer deftly through all the set-pieces. He is the perfect casting for this role and it comes across when during the finale of the prisoner exchange at the Glienicke Bridge, we would care more about the fate of Soviet agent Abel and not the two returning Americans in exchange. Despite a consummate actor like Hanks sharing screen space with Mark Rylance, it is often Rylance who steals the screen presence in few of the scenes which is indicative of Rylance’s fine acting skills on display.
The Cinematographer (Janusz Kaminski) and Production Designer (Adam Stockhausen) should take a bow in creating a world which is very representative of the era and helps in pulling the viewer Spielberg’s weaving. Spielberg is a master of his craft and his deft hands are visible across the entire movie, infusing contemporary political relevance into the film which is marketed as a large-scale box office entertainment. Spielberg himself a child of the era artfully establishes the paranoia of the cold war. Bridge of Spies is a consummate entertainment and is a chip of the old-fashioned storytelling, a mature drama which will need your rapt attention. Spielberg has brought back to the cinema houses a classically built pure drama that is hard to find these days.