Review: Bridge of Spies

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Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures (North America) & 20th Century Fox (International)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Matt Charman, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Starring: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Arda
Genre: Biography, History, Drama
Rating: R (for some violence and brief strong language)
Tom Hanks stars as the American attorney tasked with negotiating the release of a U-2 spy plane pilot who was shot down over Russia at the height of the Cold War in this historical drama from DreamWorks Studios. Steven Spielberg and Mark E. Platt produce a film written by Matt Charman. (Rotten Tomatoes)
You might be fooled at first listen to think John Williams composed the Bridge of Spies score. You might also for a moment drift into believing Indiana Jones himself might cameo as you meet the always-evil Germans from Spielberg films. Spielberg seems incapable of wrongs, especially when the face of Tom Hanks hovers perilously between the US and USSR flags on the poster cover.
Bridge of Spies crept up on us, and the true meaning of the film doesn’t really come to fruition until a special moment towards the end that is both literal and symbolic in a very Spielberg way.

Storyline

In the cold war, A lawyer, James B. Donovan recruited by the CIA and involved in an intense negotiation mission to release and exchange a CIA U-2 spy-plane pilot, Francis G. Powers, who was arrested alive after his plane was shot down by the Soviet Union during a mission–with a KGB intelligence officer, Rudolf Abel who was arrested for espionage in the US. (IMBD)

Content Guide

Violence: A shooting, a brief torture scene, but almost all the violence is subtle and quick.
Language/Crude Humor: Maybe a dozen curses, if that.
Sexual Content: N/A
Drug/Alcohol Use: Most of the men are drinking throughout, but no one is “drunk.”
Positive Content: Bridge of Spies is full of believing in good value and standing up for what is right.

Presentation

Lawyer James B. Donovan, played by the ever-reliant Tom Hanks, commands the screen. His actions are staunch. His stance is straight. His morals are reasoned. He is sturdy as a tree, and almost never thinks of flailing. He meets his match when asked to represent the illegally arrested and tried Rudolf Abel, played wonderfully by Mark Rylance.
Let’s break for a moment.
Bridge of Spies opens up with a wonderful scene where we learn Abel is indeed a spy of some sort. More importantly, we follow his daily routine; his pleasures, and the many steps he takes to conceal his actual identity. It’s a marvelous sequence where it becomes clear through composition that Abel lives two lives… Well, obviously. Spielberg beats us over the head as the first two minutes show Abel finishing his self portrait. With two images of Abel on-screen, we take this information with us through the rest of the film.
Shortly thereafter, we meet Donovan, sort of heckling a no-name attorney with a typical mobile accident case. We quickly learn how consistent Donovan will be, and his interesting personality puts us on his side. By the books, and inquisitive, Donovan knows his stuff. Plus, he’s Tom Hanks. So there’s that.
Spielberg is mostly to the point with this film co-written by Joel and Ethan Coen. Yes, we love that, don’t we? Bridge of Spies feels like a quest log from World of WarcraftOur hero begins by picking up his first main mission quest, and before you know it, he’s completing every step along the way, avoiding any side quests. Yes, there is some side mission stuff going on with US spy pilots and a US student, studying abroad at the worst time to study abroad, but absolutely everything ties back together. Donovan goes from hated to a hero. The man literally becomes the only chain in a link fence, holding together the nations, praying neither side tugs too hard, pulling him apart.
Like every scene that matters here, every moment matters. We meet plenty of characters along the way, from his family, including Amy Ryan as Mary Donovan, to self-righteous judge Thomas Watters Jr. (Alan Alda), to Agent Hoffman (Scott Shepherd). It’s an interesting mix of folks, and Donovan will definitely meet more individuals than he thought at the beginning of the whole debacle.
See, I’m totally unfamiliar with the politics of the Cold War, and I’d imagine most my age are. We are desensitized to the apparent violence the Soviets hoped to cause the US through nuclear strikes. These children weep and eat up all the propaganda the government force-played in all schools. Like bigoted racists from the 50s, people called for the hanging of Rudolf, as if they totally understood the table of contents of his spy career. It’s ridiculous from our perspective, but we weren’t there.
If there ever was a beacon of hope through the fog of misunderstanding that Bridge of Spies envelops us in, it’s Donovan. The man is mighty. He is unwavering. One should feel quite encouraged by him. Who doesn’t want Donovan as a role model? I find him to be a symbol of what is true and morally right. Many flock to whatever social agenda, but many times this discriminates someone in the process. What is so true and powerful about Donovan is how he takes every measure to do the right thing. Not the thing that appeases the most people, but the correct thing.
To match the theme of the Cold War, there is a lot of light play at work here. Many times Donovan will stand in the shadows, and then step over to a blown-out window, leaving an indistinguishable silhouette. It’s fascinating, and I’m still unsure of the purpose. Some offices Donovan enters are tinted a deep blue, where others are balanced correctly, and leave nothing amiss. Perhaps the color of a room dictates how close a specific character is to agreeing with Donovan’s “bargain” or perhaps it means the man needs more work to do to get his way.
Even in the final scene, huge, bright lights bathe Donovan and friends in a powerful white light, uncovering everything, and lifting any secrets away. Everyone in the spotlight (literally), is truthful, while those behind the lights are still hidden. Who knows their intention, but it’s not up to us to figure that out.
Bridge of Spies is again, relatively straight-forward, but it hits on all cylinders and it leaves you feeling as if you really know Donovan. At the end of the film, the score and camerawork are slow. They bring us up to Donovan’s room, and we, like him, feel like we can finally rest. Not that we feel exhausted from Donovan’s stressful encounters, but instead we feel the release of the many burdens he had to overcome.

Conclusion

Bridge of Spies proves Spielberg is still a genius and Tom Hanks is still great. Every scene pounds forth the message of the story, and we very much feel alive in the film.

Positives

+ Great score that doesn’t distract + Tom Hanks is surrounded by great actors, specifically Mark Rylance + Good historical piece on a war that still seems a mystery

Negatives

- Sort of linear script, but it works

The Bottom Line

Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg are a match made in heaven.

 

8.5

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Chris Hecox

Chris enjoys the simple things in life, like teaching his wife the newest review game, looking up Ketogenic recipes, and playing 10 hour long indie games on Steam. If he's not thinking about the oil drum components from Manhattan Project: Energy Empire, playing Player Unknown: Battlegrounds with his college buddies, or dwelling on the release of Daredevil Season Three, he's probably shooting or editing video, because that's what he does for a living.

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