There is likely no other filmmaker working today who can make a real movie movie better than Steven Spielberg. In other words, Spielberg’s films feature a method of storytelling that is not unlike the comedies and dramas of the Golden Age of Hollywood. This is true whether his films are entirely based on fiction, like his drama of several years ago, “War Horse”, or if they are based on true events, like his latest movie, “Bridge of Spies”, which often feels like a merging of Frank Capra and Alfred Hitchcock.
“Bridge of Spies” stars Tom Hanks as James Donovan, a celebrated insurance lawyer who is approached by the CIA to take on the unsavory task of defending a Soviet spy in court. The opening scenes of the film show Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) being trailed and eventually arrested by the CIA. Between that opening sequence and the following scenes featuring the humorous and often insightful conversations between Donovan and Abel, Abel is quickly established as a good man, one who may be a spy, but remains steadfast in his loyalty to a country that doesn’t care for his personal well-being.
In contrast, we then see a group of U.S. Air Force pilots being trained to go on covert spy missions above the Soviet Union. One of them, Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell), is shot down and captured by the Soviet Union. Now the Soviets have a U.S. spy, and the U.S. has a Soviet spy. Just as he thinks his work is done, Donovan is then asked to travel to the torn and dangerous Berlin to negotiate a prisoner exchange, which is made more complicated by the German arrest of an American student.
Hanks as Donovan is the ultimate everyman. He’s the Hitchcockian hero who gets mixed up in affairs that are way over his head, he’s the Capra-esque protagonist fighting for every man’s rights. Spielberg never presents the Soviets as bad guys, or the Americans as good guys. We see the scorn people start to show Donovan when he starts defending Abel, believing that the man doesn’t have the right to a fair trial because he is a traitor. Even the judge presiding over the trial questions why Donovan is fighting so hard to make a good case for his defendant; essentially, they all need to just get through it and move on. It’s disturbingly unfair, and almost immediately the viewer finds themselves sympathizing, even rooting for, this quirky older man who likes to paint and really doesn’t seem that bad. There are also a lot of contrasts drawn between Abel and Gary Powers. It’s implied that Powers’ behaved cowardly, first and foremost by refusing to take the suicide pill he was given in the event he was shot down; he’s not exactly the hero the American populace paints him to be.
Hanks’ performance is typical Hanks, which means he’s good. His character is immediately likeable and trustworthy, and he skillfully shows Donovan‘s frustration at having his life so disrupted, but also his need to do his job to the fullest. Mark Rylance is the real standout of the cast; his performance is quietly powerful.
Spielberg’s direction is excellence; as usual, he uses closeups of characters to his advantage, slowly pushing in the camera closer to them to emphasize the dialogue (speaking of which, the script is peppered with witty insights and smart exchanges). His use of color is important, as the look of the film changes drastically once our characters travel from America to Germany. And the sets and cinematography are beautifully done. Many of the film’s exteriors, particularly in the scenes in Berlin, have an otherworldly quality, resembling more of a painting than reality.
Overall, “Bridge of Spies” is a solid film, combining drama, humor, and tension, resulting in a true story that is fascinating to watch unfold throughout its almost two-and-a-half hour run time. After decades of making movies, Spielberg proves that he is still one of the best.
Runtime: 141 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some violence and brief strong language.
Check out showtimes for this movie and more at the following St. Louis-area theaters:
- Wehrenberg Theatres
- AMC Theatres
- Regal Movie Theatres
- Galleria 6
- Chase Park Plaza
- Moolah Theatre
- Hi-Pointe Theatre
- St. Andrews Cinema
- Plaza Frontenac Cinema
- Tivoli Theatre