Tales of the unsung-hero seem to be the best reason to make true-story films, and Spielberg’s latest film definitely fuels that argument. “Bridge of Spies” is tense, smart, and very human. Taking place during the early Cold War (1957, specifically), the tale makes some stark commentaries about surveillance and public perception. It may not be a traditional slow-burn Cold War spy thriller, but it does make the argument that the style (a lot of dim lighting and heavy shadows) should be as much of a staple as the authentic clothing, cars, and mannerisms.
Tom Hanks stars as James Donovan, a sharp-as-a-tack insurance attorney with experience in criminal law. After being approached by his boss (Alan Alda) to defend an accused Russian spy, Rudolph Abel (Oscar-winner Mark Rylance) in court, James reluctantly agrees. After losing the case, the attorney goes beyond what was asked of him and publically claims he’s going to file an appeal. After a backlash from strangers and even his family, James takes another case, in Berlin. His mission: negotiating the exchange of a captured American U2 –pilot (Austin Stowell), and a captured American student studying Economy in Berlin (Will Rogers), for the return of Rudolph to Russia. James has everything to lose in taking the hefty task.
True to Spielberg’s style, small moments of levity bring some light to an otherwise desperate and dark tale. One of this film geek’s dreams has come true: the Coen brothers, and Matt Charman, have co-written a Spielberg film. The dialogue is often sharp and clever and the film never drags in its hefty two-and-a-half-hours run time. That alone is quite the task in a movie where the bulk of time is spent on the details of a negotiation. Characters such as James’ wife (Amy Ryan), who could have been easily overlooked, have moments to shine and bring to light exactly how dangerous the job is.
The performances are spot on. Hanks sells the gravitas and desperate-perseverance (the actor can sweat on command, for Pete’s sake!) and Abel is a delight as the stoic and mysterious Rudolph. There are no villains in the film and the impressive ensemble shows both professional and personal sides of their characters in believable ways.
True-tales of people going against all-odds to try to obtain the unobtainable are something movie-goers are quite familiar with. Yet there’s something original in the telling of James Donovan’s tale, a detailed perspective that may be otherwise seen as dry and yet is presented with the intensity of a spy-thriller. “Bridge of Spies” not only tells us a lesser-known part of our history, but also what can come from unbiased determination.
My Grade: A
“Bridge of Spies” stars Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, and Amy Ryan, and is Directed by Stephen Spielberg. It is rated PG-13 for: some violence and brief strong language, and is released by Touchstone Pictures.
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