In 1957, the Cold War was well under way with both the Soviets and the Americans planting agents of espionage in enemy territory. When one of the Soviet spies, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), is caught by the FBI, insurance lawyer James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) is recruited to give him a proper defense. However, Donovan goes above and beyond when he manages to keep Abel from getting the electric chair. Instead, he proposes that Abel may prove to be a decent trade should one of the American agents fall into Soviet hands. His prediction ends up being valid when pilot Francis Powers (Austin Stowell) crashes a spy plane in Soviet territory. Now it’s up to Donovan to negotiate a trade of spies between hostile nations.
Following movies like the largely fictional Warhorse and the “there’s something missing here” Lincoln, Bridge of Spies makes for a fantastic return to the sort of movies that that we love from Stephen Spielberg. This movie proves that Spielberg can still make a good film without all of the awkwardness that his previous two films afforded him. The cinematography is clever with the peculiar artistic angles that we have come to expect from a Spielberg film. The opening of the film shows Abel; however, as the camera pans back, we see that it is actually Abel looking at himself in a mirror. Then we see that it is in fact Abel looking at himself in the mirror as he is painting a self portrait. It’s a clever and inventive way to start the film, and the cinematography continues to gain ground from there.
Although John Williams, who usually composes the music for all Stephen Spielberg films, did not compose this film (he is most likely far too busy with The Force Awakens), Thomas Newman (Skyfall) does a good job making a subtle score with all of the grace that one could be deceived into thinking that he is Williams.
Speaking of Rudolf Abel, Mark Rylance portrays the character in a very eccentric and sincere way. From his slight quirks as a character, like when he asks the FBI agents if he can brush his teeth upon arrest, to some of the more intimate character scenes with Donovan, he is fun to watch and a welcome addition to the screen during his scenes. Likewise, Tom Hanks once again proves his acting ability as he plays an insurance lawyer reluctant to defend a Soviet spy, despite his vast experience going all the way back to the Nuremburg Trials.
Truth is often far more interesting than fiction. In this case, sticking to the true story of Donovan delving into the complicated politics of the Cold War was both intriguing and educational. After all, who doesn’t like to see legitimate espionage methods firsthand (like the enigmatic trick coins). Also, one striking scene has Donovan crossing the Berlin Wall via train. He witnesses just how far people will go to get away from East Germany. It’s a powerful scene to say the least.
Although Bridge of Spies does run a bit on the long side, it is well worth the two hours and twenty-one minutes of your time. Watch the true story of Cold War espionage and politics come to life. It’ll be worth it. Trust me.
Have you seen Bridge of Spies yet? Let us know your thoughts on the new Spielberg\Hanks film in the comments!