Steven Spielberg‘s Bridge of Spies is one of the films I missed out on last year, and since it wasn’t a question of the film being released here a year late, I likely won’t be placing it on my “Best of 2016” list once I get to that. What I might do is update my Best of 2015 list at some point in the future with the movie on it. In case you haven’t guessed it, I was very much fond of Bridge of Spies.
I have very little knowledge of the real events on which the movie is based, but I know that it has been praised in most areas, the historical accuracy not being one of them. If you want to hear a critic list off ways in which the film defecates all over the true facts of the Cold War, I’m not your man. Just so we’re clear.
Tom Hanks is James B. Donovan, an attorney who is tasked with defending a suspected Soviet spy, recently apprehended by the CIA, in court. His name is Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) and his mannerisms are out of the norm, and Donovan’s efforts to defend this spy aren’t highly regarded by the American population, especially when he begins to befriend Rudolf and convinces the court to prosecute him as opposed to give him the death penalty. As much as I enjoyed the drama of it all, certain scenes of people staring Donovan down in public disapprovingly struck me as somewhat heavy-handed.
Things escalate when a US fighter pilot, Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell), is shot down and captured by the Soviet Union. A letter reaches Donovan which is forged to resemble a message from Abel’s “family”, but actually contains a message from the Russians, proposing that a prisoner exchange is made. The Russians vow to let Powers free in return for Rudolf Abel’s release. It gets even more complicated when an American university student is captured near East Germany, a country which Abel just so happens to harbor sensitive information on, as he tries to bring his German girlfriend over to the “right” side of the Berlin Wall. Donovan is sent to Berlin to sort things out, having two Americans to bring home, each held by different factions, in exchange for only one Russian man.
In spite of sometimes being a bit too slow, the film is gripping thanks to being ripe with fine performances. Greatest is of course Mark Rylance as Rudolf (reminding me of Ulrik Muhe in Das leben der anderen), a character who seems somewhat innocent and quirky but simultaneously emits subtly dubious vibes, making you wonder whether he’s playing it up (including his Russian brouge) and doing so in order to more efficiently hide something important. You’re never quite sure what he is, and Rylance’s performance is what truly sells it – at one point, Tom Hanks’ character is forced to ask if he “ever worries”. For now, he gets my vote for this year’s Best Supporting Actor award, although I still have Oscar nominees to catch up on.
This also happens to be one of those rarities where the dialogue scenes are realistically directed, in the aspect that the speakers within a given conversation don’t always wait their turn. Like in real life, there are several instances of characters talking over each other and/or trying to speak to one person whilst a different one talks to them. Usually in movies, the characters will all speak one by one, which is easier to direct but harder to relate to. It figures that someone like Spielberg could do the more difficult option so well, and it probably helped that Joel and Ethan Coen (i.e. the Coen Brothers) were behind much of the writing, giving an extra “edge” of sorts to the dialogue scenes and depth to the characters.
Bridge of Spies is well-shot, well-acted, well-written, well-directed, well-scored (Thomas Newman being the brain behind that operation) and just altogether well-made. It’s interesting to watch and often feels very true to life in how its characters act and interact. Many have complained about its lack of action, but I imagine their attention spans are nothing to write home about. And even though it’s not up there with Spielberg’s other historical pieces like Schindler’s List, I’m glad I finally got around to seeing it.
Again, I don’t know how spot-on Spielberg was when it came to the film’s historical depiction, but what he has created is nevertheless intriguing and fascinating. I am thus giving it a score of 4.5/5 and leaving you with its trailer below. Stay tuned for a streak of more Oscar-related reviews soon, which I will occasionally interrupt to review some more recent films, hopefully some major stinkers, and a certain documentary which I will not yet name.