“Aren’t you concerned?”
“Would it help?”
That’s an exchange James Donovan (Tom Hanks) and Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) have not once, but twice, in Steven Spielberg’s latest, “Bridge of Spies,” which opens nationwide on Oct. 16. Moviegoers shouldn’t be concerned about the latest pairing from Hanks and Spielberg, a well-crafted espionage thriller that harkens back to the old-school films of its genre that were being released as this actual event took place.
“Bridge of Spies” marks the fourth film that Hanks and Spielberg – both two-time Oscar winners in their respective fields as actor and director – have done together, and it’s their first since 2004’s “The Terminal,” which was met with lukewarm reviews from both critics and moviegoers. For “Bridge of Spies,” they bring in another Oscar-winning duo, Joel and Ethan Coen, with whom Hanks worked on “The Ladykillers” and Spielberg served as executive producer for the brothers’ magnificent remake of “True Grit.” The brothers Coen serve as re-writers on a screenplay from Matt Charman, and the result is a tense thriller with smart, sometimes humorous dialogue, as they know how to bring to this kind of film.
Set during the Cold War, James Donovan is an insurance lawyer who’s recruited to serve in a case that’s far from what he has been doing in recent years. It involves Abel, a Soviet spy the FBI recently captured. Donovan is his attorney, and the American crowd is none too pleased with his decision to defend the enemy.
But the story then takes a more intriguing turn when American pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) becomes captured by the Soviet Union after his U-2 spy plane was shot down. In an effort to rescue Powers, Donovan and his team travel to Berlin to exchange Abel for Powers – and for an American graduate student who was captured by the Soviets as well.
There are excellent performances all around, especially from Hanks and Rylance – who share great chemistry in their scenes together. Hanks is perfect as the all-American lawyer who has to take on the most challenging case of his career, and Rylance, who’s mainly been cast in supporting roles, is tremendous as Abel, a Russian spy who is not as evil as everyone thinks. He’s actually a very humble man, and he’s doing what he knows is best to make this exchange happen. It’s a performance that will certainly get the Oscar voters chatting.
Spielberg’s go-to composer, John Williams, had to step aside for personal reasons, so Spielberg recruited another great, Thomas Newman. Newman’s score is rather underplayed, not being heard for the film’s first 20 minutes. And when it does come into play, it’s not overused, and it’s not obvious. It’s simply perfect.
“Bridge of Spies” is a dialogue-driven film with little action. Its pacing may turn some viewers away, but those who are able to keep their full attention on the screen will be truly pleased – and they’ll want to see it again to revisit the great shots Spielberg and his DP Janusz Kaminski composed. This is an outstanding effort from Spielberg and everyone else involved.