BRIDGE OF SPIES
FILM REVIEW - BRIDGE OF SPIES
Directed by Steven Spielberg.
Starring Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan.
A proper old school spy thriller.
It’s safe to say that Steven Spielberg has changed enough games in the course of a truly remarkable 45-year career to warrant the level of anticipation that greets every new release. The tedium of his recent historical awards bonanza Lincoln (2012) notwithstanding, a new Spielberg movie isn’t just an event; it’s an early Christmas present. This Cold War thriller, set during the “Duck and Cover” Red scare paranoia of 1957, is a masterclass in suspense executed by one of the finest visual storytellers of our time.
James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) is an insurance claims lawyer handed the poisoned chalice of defending Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance). The Government and the Court want to hand Abel a quick death sentence, but Donovan’s by-the-book tenacity sees the spy’s life spared. When the pilot of an American U-2 spy plane is captured by the Soviets, Abel becomes a handy bargaining chip, and Donovan is entrusted with the task of facilitating a prisoner swap in Berlin just as the GDR have started erecting the wall.
Bridge of Spies is a proper old school spy thriller, with microfilms, tense border crossings, bluffs and double bluffs. It’s a film of two halves, and both are fantastic. Spielberg knows exactly where to find the substance in the story, and the two strands of narrative fit together like pieces of a jigsaw.
The director’s affinity for sentimental manipulation is averted until the closing scenes, where the beatification of Donovan becomes more than a little cloying. Donovan is the kind of all American boy scout role that Hanks can pull off in his sleep. He doesn’t, but is still outclassed by Rylance in every scene that the two share. With a mix of laid-back serenity and resigned sardonicism, Rylance is simply superb.