Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, Scott Shepherd, Austin Stowell, Jesse Plemons
Written by: Matt Charman, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
Running Time: 141 mins
Release date: 26th November 2015
The pleasure of going to see so many movies is that, every so often, one comes along that surprises you. You go in expecting one thing and you come out having experienced another. That is exactly what Bridge of Spies delivers. You think you are getting a Cold War thriller like the kinds ripped from the pages of John Le Carre. Instead, what you get is a human drama resembling Mr Smith Goes To Washington. What you also get are craftsmen at the top of their game.
The latter part of the 1950’s and Rudolf Abel is arrested by the Americans, accused of spying for the Russians. So they American government are seen to be fair and true, they bring in insurance lawyer, James B. Donovan, to defend the little man. Knowing he is on a losing side, Donovan defies everything by trying to seriously prove his innocence, when everyone else wants his head. He then shocks everyone by pleading for a jail sentence, just in case the government needs Abel to be a trading pawn. When an American pilot is shot down and captured in Berlin, Donovan’s vision comes true.
Split into two halves, the first dealing more with American Constitutional Law than espionage, the second more about negotiation, it could have been so easy, in the hands of a director with less experience, to be boring and dull. Except the man behind the camera is Steven Spielberg, a master of squeezing out as much entertainment and interest out everything he touches. This is a film mainly set in rooms, whether they be offices, board rooms, living rooms or cells, yet Spielberg sets them all up differently. They don’t all look the same. They all exist for the purpose of driving the narrative along.
When he needs to inject some excitement, he does it with the same skill of being tension as he has proven in his best blockbusters. The opening sequence, virtually wordless, in which we see the events of Abel’s arrest, is as gripping as most regular thrillers and yet this isn’t a thriller. He even manages to shock us with a short sequence where Donovan, travelling on a train over the newly built Berlin Wall, witnesses a handful of escapees being shot as they desperately try to crawl into the free West.
The next craftsmen are the Coen Bothers, Ethan and Joel, who have taken Matt Charman’s script and inject their magical touches. The dialogue crackles. It’s like listening to a finely played piece of music and eating a well-prepared meal. You find yourself being filled with classy scenes of extraordinary words.
Add the mix two outstanding actors from two very different worlds, complimenting each other magnificently. Mark Rylance, regarded by many as Britain’s best stage actors, rarely makes movies. In fact, Spielberg has been after him for years to be in one of his films. he has chosen wisely. As Abel, it is a subtle performance of slightness and quiet nuances. Every scene he appears just feels so perfect.
From the other side of the coin comes Hollywood’s golden boy, Tom Hanks. More than ever he has become the modern equivalent to James Stewart, capturing that “Everyman” performance with ease. As Donovan, you follow a man full of wisdom facing those who believe they know best, yet knowing nothing. The scenes between him and Rylance have that same, goose-bump effect I felt watching Hanks opposite Paul Newman in Road To Perdition.
Bridge Of Spies isn’t for everyone. It doesn’t rush, just allowing us to watch these two men grow as the plot moves gently along. If you are expecting a compliment to James Bond or Bourne, then best look elsewhere. If you want intelligent, high quality film making by men who know their craft, then you will not be disappointed.