Bridge of Spies (2015)

  • Time: 135 min
  • Genre: Biography | Drama | History
  • Director: Steven Spielberg
  • Cast: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda


In the cold war, A lawyer, James B. Donovan recruited by the CIA and involved into an intense negotiation mission to release and exchange a CIA U-2 spy-plane pilot, Francis G. Powers that 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.


  • Steven Spielberg. Seems like war historical pieces seem to be his go to when its this time of the year. Don’t believe me? Well, there’s Lincoln, War Horse, and Saving Private Ryan for starters.

    He has moved on to the Cold War and espionage, something we have already got a hint of with Catch Me if you Can. But this time, the Coen Brothers are attached as co writers of the film, certainly making Bridge of Spies little to prove, but surely a lot to live up to.

    Instead of seeing the violence that we’ve seen in his other worka, this Cold War epic focuses more on the secret battles that took place off the field. James B. Donovan was recruited by the CIA after he represents Rudoft Abel in court (not by will), a presumed Soviet who was arrested in the U.S. for espionage.

    Bridge of Spies is based on the true story of James Donovan, who not only negotiated in the return of American pilot Francis Gary Powers (as shown in this movie), but he also negotiated for the exchange of prisoners from the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Getting Donovan done correctly as a master of negotiation was key to the films success.

    Bridge of Spies contains scenes where the tension is shared across only two characters at a time, negotiating over the lives of captured people as though they were pawns on a chess board. Watching Tom Hanks play James Donovan is a sight to see, but his scenes weren’t pushed to its full capacity. Other than one scene, there are no gunshots in this movie (it is the Cold War after all). But where Argo succeed in making viewers anxious and worried, Bridge of Spies instead feels stiff, but lacking true grit.

    Nonetheless, Tom Hanks once again brings himself to another worthy performance, playing a simple American that through some Deus Ex Machina moment is the perfect negotiator for the Americans. His performance is commendable, making Donovan appear both as an unsung hero but a confidence not expected.

    Mark Rylance as the Russian painter spy plays a quiet, stoic character lavishly, showing no signs of terror that one might convey if an entire country was demanding his death. “Would it help,” Abel constantly told Donovan, being asked constantly if he was worried at all about the situation he was in. It’s admirable how loyal he was to his country and to his job, something that Donovan perhaps saw in him and motivated him to return him home.

    With works such as Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and No Country for Old Men, a darker tone seemed unavoidable with the Coen Brothers penning the script. However, in place of getting a Saving Private Ryan with a hint of Fargo, we instead get War Horse with shades of Burn After Reading. Both films aren’t necessarily bad films, but they are far from being on par with their counterparts. Matt Charman was also involved in the writing, which makes one wonder if he was the primary writer and the Coen brothers merely came in to revise it or vice versa.

    The editing here is great, with scenes going back and forth between the captured American pilot and the Russian spy, seeing just how similar and paranoid both sides were doing the Cold War. But did you expect bad cinematography and directing with Spielberg behind the lens?

    Jim Dovovan is thrown into a situation that a normal citizen should have never been involved in. He is, after all, just an insurance lawyer that lived and died by the rules of the Constitution, something that didn’t help him with the American public. But Spielberg has added another page in his long resume, and has earned his Cold War film badge successfully.

  • With the mountains of awards and Saharas of praise heaped upon them over their decades-long careers, it would be difficult to classify either Steven Spielberg of Tom Hanks as underrated. Their individual and collective works, especially in the last three decades, have always been steeped in excellence; whatever their flaws, one cannot deny the quality of the effort. Their fourth and latest collaboration is a typically impeccable product, and yet it feels fresher and more energised than the combined total of their output in the last 15 years. Truly superlative on all fronts, Bridge of Spies finds both director and actor not just at their creative peaks, but also displaying an ease with their talents that makes the espionage drama a tense and riveting but also joyous watch.

    The first fifteen minutes rank as some of the best work in Spielberg’s career. It is 1957, the height of the Cold War, and a time when the Americans and Russians were dispatching spies to each other’s homelands to mine for intelligence on the other’s nuclear capabilities and intentions. One Soviet agent Rudolf Abel (an outstanding Mark Rylance) is going about his business in Brooklyn as a team of FBI agents follow his every more. The tension Spielberg creates as one nondescript man after another reveals themselves to be government agents amidst a sea of similarly dressed commuters is something to behold. They are amongst us and, if our own people can disguise themselves in ordinariness, then who’s to say our enemies can’t do the same? When the agents finally burst through Abel’s door and start ransacking his apartment, one can’t help but admire the man’s sangfroid as he kindly asks for his dentures before destroying his intel right under their noses.

    With the Rosenbergs’ conviction as traitors to their country still fresh in the public consciousness and children being taught “Duck and Cover” drills in the classrooms, paranoia for a perceived thermonuclear attack plagues just about every man, woman, and child. The American government wants to make an example of Abel, but they also want to ensure that they are seen giving Abel a fair shake. “American justice will be on trial,” after all. To that end, insurance lawyer James B. Donovan (Hanks) is tapped by his firm to represent the Soviet spy. The assignment is a lost cause and Donovan will be reviled in the country for defending a traitor, but Abel must have a reasonable defense nonetheless. “Everyone will hate me, but at least I’ll lose,” Donovan jokes.

    No one, not his firm and certainly not his family, want Donovan to mount a genuine defense but Donovan is a man of principle, one who is committed to doing his duty and upholding both the letter and the spirit of the law. The rulebook, the Constitution, is exactly what makes them American, Donovan tells the CIA agent who presses him to supersede attorney-client privilege with patriotism. “Don’t nod at me like that, you sonofabitch,” is Donovan’s parting line to the smarmy agent. There are only three actors who could ever deliver that line with righteous indignation without being sanctimonious: James Stewart, Gregory Peck, and Tom Hanks.

    The courtroom maneuverings of the film’s first third soon gives way to a cold war thriller. Donovan is tasked with another tricky and far more dangerous job: negotiate the release of captured American U-2 spy pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell). Not only must Donovan broker an exchange with the Russians, he also endeavours to secure the safe return of Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers), an American student arrested as a spy in East Berlin. Though the CIA could care less about the fate of Pryor, and the Germans are tetchy at having any sort of Russian involvement, Donovan insists on the 2-for-1 trade. “Every person matters,” he declares.

    Inspired by true events, Bridge of Spies is an intelligently scripted, superbly acted, and immaculately directed piece of adult entertainment. Spielberg means to spotlight the everyman and the simple yet often complex ideal of doing the right thing. What’s rather intriguing about the screenplay by Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, and Joel Coen is how doing the right thing – whether it be presuming a man innocent until he is found guilty or not spilling any information to the enemy – can often be a thankless, and sometimes vilified, act. There is also a subversiveness not only in rooting for Donovan to defend the so-called enemy, but also in the commonality shared by the warring sides. Note how Donovan frames his defense of Abel – Abel was merely doing the job he was given to do, and doing it well. Should Abel then be punished for the very dedication we expect from ourselves? There are weighty themes and thorny narrative strands in Bridge of Spies but, to borrow one of Donovan’s lines, the story is told in a way that makes sense.

    Spielberg does indulge in one of those Spielbergian over-touches, particularly in the triple ending that redundantly drapes Donovan in metaphorical red, white and blue. Save for those final minutes, Bridge of Spies is filmmaking at its highest level.

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  • Spielberg and Hanks. Hanks and Spielberg. Their collaborations have become legend. You’ve got 1998’s Saving Private Ryan which I never went gaga over. Then there’s The Terminal, not an awful film just meh. Finally, we have Catch Me If You Can, the duo’s entertaining masterpiece (this is just my opinion). Bridge of Spies (my latest review) is the latest synergy between these two celebrated, Hollywood giants. It’s recommendable strictly because of historical significance. “Bridge” with its darkly-lit scenes and bloated two hour-plus running time, falls into Steven’s two categories of movies being hyperactive action adventures and historical sagas. It hightails into the latter meaning it’s talky, draggy, and mostly devoid of anything compelling. I felt as if I was watching Lincoln again minus the circa range of 1865. Translation: I don’t plan on taking in a second viewing.

    Taking place during the Cold War via 1957, featuring a cast of virtual unknowns (a Spielberg emblem), and written by none other than the Cohen brothers (Ethan and Joel Cohen of course), Bridge of Spies chronicles real-life insurance lawyer, James B. Donovan (Hanks). He’s a family man, a dude bent on doing the right thing. When he gets saddled with defending a Russian spy (Rudolf Abel played uniquely by Mark Rylance), Donovan helps said spy avoid the death penalty while attempting to trade him for two American refugees (a fighter pilot and a graduate student detained by way of espionage). The flick then involves globetrotting within the territories of Germany, Russia, and you guessed it, Brooklyn, New York. Scenes build to a slow creep combining negotiation dialogue that spews mannerisms at verbatim (Tom’s James B. has the flu, we get it). I sensed that I’d been in the theater for ten hours and sat through three drawn-out endings (the final sequence is reminiscent of 1985’s White Nights. It looks like a soundstage which is uncharacteristic of the mighty Steven Spielberg).

    In retrospect, the acting as expected is solid with Tom Hanks being well, Tom Hanks. We all know he’s the quintessential everyman. Will he get a nomination from the Academy? Maybe but this is October so there’s sixty days left in the fiscal year. Bottom line: The world’s most socko director provides us with admirable storytelling, technical skill, and period detail of the highest order. Does he entertain the moviegoer in the process? Not entirely. Be sure to bring heightened intelligence and an attention span (the size of Texas) to actually feel immersed. This is a “bridge” too far if you ask me. Rating: 3 stars.

    Rating: 3 out of 4 stars

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  • 100 word Review of Bridge of Spies
    SPIELBERG Movie is a good enough reason to watch this. Viewers knowing the history it’s based on might relate better, but nevertheless it is an engaging Cold War drama with seldom a dull moment. It isn’t a ‘Saving Private Ryan’ or a ‘Empire of the Sun’ but it is a vintage Spielberg movie as good as those, with a great script, great writing and mostly importantly subtle and underplayed but GREAT direction. Though a predictable plot, it is a pure storytelling gusto capturing the human emotions at different levels; intricately crafted by the master craftsman, thanks to his Midas touch.

    Subtitles: No
    Audience: A Family watch.
    What Say: Don’t Miss this classic

    Performances: Mark Rylance (Abel) probably an oscar nomination worth performance, Hank’s (Donovan) as usual gives his best. But Rylance steals the show, just an example of his subtle but powerful acting – Repeatedly, when Donovan asks Abel in his prison cell: “Aren’t you worried?” and Abel will reply with an impassive: “Would it help?”

    Technicalities: Crisp editing, a complementing cinematography and moving BGM.

    Watch-out: the Subtle but expertly directed train sequence at the start of the movie, Power’s plane getting shot, Abel telling the story of a German “Standing Man” to Hanks, Hanks relating to a grave scene in Berlin when commuting in a commuter train back in America and Hank’s Son’s explanation of filling the bathing tub as a precaution for nuclear explosion are few watch-out’s amongst the many.
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  • (Rating: ☆☆☆☆ out of 4)

    This film is highly recommended.

    In brief: A riveting docudrama with Spielberg and Hanks at the top of their game

    GRADE: A-

    Bridge of Spies is a true Cold War tale about the espionage business, its unethical surveillance methods, and the ongoing political war games orchestrated between powerful nations. The film does shamelessly manipulate the emotions of its audience and, at times, lets the nostalgia wash over its subject matter depicting more innocent times than in actuality, but, in the capable hands of Steven Spielberg, this is superb filmmaking and one of the year’s best.

    The director’s masterful handling of this complex story impresses in its concise storytelling and richly drawn characters. The screenplay by Matt Charman and the Coen Brothers builds its narrative convincingly and clearly lays its background exposition through its compelling dialog that not only establishes the characters and their motives but moves the action at a steady pace.

    The year is 1957 when the United States and Russia were major enemies and spies worked undercover in search of oneupmanship. (Some things never change.) Back then, the world was splintering into different political factions, the military industrial complex was expanding, the threat of nuclear retaliation was a common practice, and the Berlin Wall became a reality. (A few do.)

    Into this quagmire is yet another political incident involving a convicted Russian spy named Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) and an imprisoned American, Gary Powers (Austin Stowell), a pilot caught behind enemy lines. One man, a lawyer named James Donovan (Tom Hanks) is asked to act as a go-between and secretly negotiate their exchange. The film chronicles these events with authenticity and high drama.

    The acting is excellent and the film is very well cast. Mr. Hanks has played the similarly upright decent common man role before but he continually impresses with his restraint and understatement of a man with a moral code that will not waiver. The actor never allows his character to overplay the righteousness and make Donovan more complicated by his subtle acting choices. Mr. Rylance has the more showier role as Abel and he brings a sly and layered portrait of a man who seems to enjoy being the pawn in this chess match. Other standouts include Alan Alda as one of Donavan’s associates, Dakin Matthews as a very biased judge, Jon Curry and Michael Gaston as determined CIA agents, Will Rogers as as idealistic college student caught in the cloak-and-dagger web of intrigue, and Amy Ryan as Donovan’s loving 50’s wife, white pearl necklace included.

    Production values are top notch. Janusz Kaminski’s lovely muted photography, wonderful art direction designed by Adam Stockhausen, Kasia Walicka-Malmone’s period costumes, and a subtle and haunting music score by the talented Thomas Newman all work to enhance this film.

    But it is Mr. Spielberg’s vision that resonates. His love of period Americana and the late fifties era create powerful vignettes (e.g.: spectators in a courtroom rise segueing into students reciting the Pledge of Allegiance leading to a school lecture on the effects of radiation poisoning to highly impressionable children, desperate people trying to escape over the Berlin Wall and, moments later, seeing typical children playing and climbing over wire fences, reporters scurrying over broken discarded flashbulbs from old fashioned cameras that litter a courthouse corridor, a frightening aerial escape as a plane spins out of control. Special kudos to Michael Kahn for his skillful editing as well.) Spielberg’s willingness to establish period details of pop culture images defines the film brilliantly.

    Bridge of Spies is a triumph and one of Mr. Spielberg’s finest cinematic projects to date.

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  • At first glance Bridge of Spies appears to be a re-creation of a 50s spy movie and, in many instances, it is. But it is also a very good movie with some outstanding performances that tells the story of real incident during the cold war.
    Matt Charman and Ethan and Joel Coen have written a screenplay that has to move through years of waiting. They do the smart thing and just jump from one event to the next but they keep everything clear so it isn’t jarring and disjointed. They have not tried to force a twenty-first century moral outlook to a 1950’s story and so the movie appears to be from that time. The characters are not as three-dimensional as they could have been but they are just as three-dimensional as they need to be because the time period is as much a character as the people. If there is any weakness to the script it is the effort they made to include so much without weighing down the plot.
    Steven Spielberg has proved himself to be one of, if not the best director we have doing films today. Everything in this movie, the sights and sound, the color or lack of it, everything is geared to the story and to understanding that story. And if you don’t know the outcome it is also pitched perfectly for suspense. This movie could easily be a modern spy thriller except, if you don’t know the story, it’s all true.
    Tom Hanks knows his character, James Donovan, well because he’s played the type before. That does not lessen the quality of his performance which should be nominated for awards. Hanks gives Donovan a brain and we see it working as Donovan makes and then stands by decisions that could make or break his life as well as the world’s. Alan Alda plays Donovan’s boss, Thomas Waters, with gravity and authority.
    Of all the characters in the movie the least understandable is Austin Stowell’s Francis Gary Powers. The big question, why did Powers allow himself to be captured, is never answered. Michael Gaston is a perfect cold war CIA agent. And Dakin Matthews plays Judge Byers who sees both sides of the issue but also sees the times in which they all live.
    If all the performances weren’t believable this film would simply be a rip-off of a long forgotten style. Because they are believable the story takes on the reality and life that it needs to be a good movie.
    The one performance, however, that stands out above everyone else is Mark Rylance’s Rudolf Abel. He is a loyal Russian spy and the character’s calmness at all times makes him the center around which everything else moves. His line, “Would it make any difference?” is his character but within that character you can see there is so much underneath.
    I give this movie 4 nickels out of 4. It is, without question, one of the best movies of the year but it is quiet and, unlike other films made today, this film’s quiet speaks louder than most films at full volume.

  • Worried but smiling, Mary Donovan sees her husband off on his secret mission to East Berlin: “Can’t you give me something to go on? I don’t even care if it’s not true.” As the stay at home, perky wife, Mary doesn’t have much role in the action — but that line strikes to the heart of Stephen Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies. As insurance lawyer James Donovan learns when he’s introduced to the web of lies woven by the Russian, American and East German governments, everyone indulges each other’s fictions.
    When Donovan negotiates the exchange of Russian spy Rudolf Abel for the U2 pilot Gary Powers and a hapless American economics student taken prisoner in East Berlin, he finds layer upon layer of fiction. All the agents lie and hide. Actors are presented as Abel’s family. The lawyer Vogel proves a rare bird, elusive in flight and of ambiguous power and role when finally spotted. Nobody is who they seem to be.
    The CIA enlists Donovan as negotiator because the swap is too touchy for governments to negotiate. Only Donovan refuses to lie. Mary doesn’t believe his cover — the company sending him to Europe for clients — but even to assuage her fears all he says is “I’m doing this for us.” They go through the marmalade game to confirm her confidence.
    The Communists don’t believe his true story, that he’s not an American agent. In the plague of duplicity in both houses, only Donovan tells the truth. He confounds the US agents when he escapes their script to insist the American student be included in the swap. Because that one man stuck to his values, to the American principles of justice, the fictions worked out to a happy ending.
    The metaphor extends even further. When Donovan defends the Russian spy, when he enforces the Americans’ guarantee of justice, he offends all America. Vigilante citizens shoot up Donovan’s home. A cop turns against him, preferring to persecute rather than to protect him. The lawyers and judge want to present just the appearance of a fair trial — precisely what we disdain in the Russian autocracy. Donovan is totally invested in the moral principles of US justice, which the other lawyers, the judge and the embittered frightened citizens are all too willing to scuttle. Only by appealing to the judge’s self-interest does Donovan manage to avoid his client’s death sentence. The Golden Rule fails Donovan: Shouldn’t we treat their spies as we would want them to treat ours? He wins by foreseeing the possibility of using Abel for an exchange the next time Russia catches an American spy. Pragmatism trumps principle.
    Add Tom Hanks’s James Donovan to the pantheon of American righteousness, the rugged individual who stands up against the world for his principles. He ranks with Henry Fonda’s Lincoln, James Stewart’s Messieurs Smith and Deeds, Gary Cooper’s Sergeant York and Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch. They all embody what the Russian spy Abel admires as “the standing man,” a character so strong of will and ideals that he stands by them whatever the cost and challenge. After the swap Donovan appears standing still solid — but dwarfed by the machinery of the bridge that looms black and impersonal over him. When he finally collapses on his bed at home, exhausted, he’s still in that standing pose, though splayed out horizontal.
    Obviously the film is about the 1957 episode in the Cold War. The period is richly realized, down to the films on the West Berlin marquee: Billy Wilder’s satire of Coca Cola colonialism in Berlin, One Two Three (1961), Kubrick’s film (script by blacklisted Dalton Trumbo) about the freedom fighting Roman slave, Spartacus (1960), and the parable of an alien-threatened (Commie?) community, Village of the Damned. (1960). The film dates cohere with the dates of Powers’ capture and release.
    The political chill of the Cold War permeates the West, as we see in the school kids’ oath of allegiance and Duck and Cover drill, and in the sniffly cold that starts with Abel, overwhelms Donovan when a German gang steals his Saks Fifth Avenue overcoat, and passes on to the CIA agent. The white hanky signifies the characters’ surrender to the era’s paranoia, cruelty and abandonment of American values.
    That’s what makes this film about now as much as then. The film addresses the current threat, America abandoning its values in their supposed defence against a monster enemy, whether their Communism or our current bogey, radical Islam. “There’s no book of rules,” the CIA agent tells Donovan, attempting to violate the client-lawyer relationship. There is, Donovan reminds him — the constitution.
    Of course, the Supreme Court is split down the middle on what the constitution was intended to advance. But the principles of freedom, justice, protection of the individual, should guard against the system’s corrupt pragmatism. That’s the gist of Donovan’s terse but resonant address to the Supreme Court. His appeal fails on the familiar 5-4 count. Bridge of Spies reminds us all of what distinguished America and made her a beacon for humanity worldwide. It also warns us how easy it is to abandon those values in the name of defending them. (Hello Republican candidates.)
    The film’s excellence lies equally in its message and in the subtlety of its presentation. Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance are brilliant in the interiority of their expression. Both feel and express more than they say.
    On the train home Donovan shows a flicker of disturbance when he sees American teenagers playfully leaping over backyard high wire fences. He’s remembering the young people shot dead trying to leap the Berlin Wall? He’s remembering his close call when he was threatened and robbed by the East Berliners? He sees the spectre of the fascist society in America? We’re reminded that however great our social and political differences, we and our enemies are equally tempted to abandon our values for expediency. That’s when we indulge our own fictions, which is even more dangerous than indulging each other’s.

  • Quickie Review:

    When a Soviet spy (Mark Rylance) in the height of the Cold War is arrested, James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) is recruited to defend him in an American trial. Meanwhile an American pilot is captured by the Soviets, thrusting Donovan into the responsibility of negotiating between two world powers on the brink of war. Bridge of Spies, balances the gravity of politics on a world stage with the relations and fears of the people behind it all. This film is yet another great example of what Spielberg and Hanks can achieve when they team up together. Will this be a classic from years to come? I expect not, but the quality of acting and directing is undeniable.

    Full Review:

    Considering Spielberg being one of the best directors and Hanks being one of the best actors in the Hollywood business, it is hard not to get excited for this movie. I’m not completely familiar with the real-world story, so I can’t say much on the accuracy but on the movie of course I have my opinion to share.

    In terms of the performances, everybody was flawless but the clear stand-outs for me was Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance. The character Donovan is unwavering when it comes to his duty as a lawyer, even when he has to defend an enemy of his country. He believes in the importance of unbiased justice, so strongly that at first it may come off as naïve. However, there are understated moments where we can see clearly his resolve being tested to the limits. Mark Rylance as the Soviet spy, is a man of few words but with that limitation he is able to convey so much about the character. He is defeated and fearful for his life, but when Donovan shows that there is still hope he will crack a joke. The key here is subtlety, that brings the power into the more dramatic moments without it feeling forced. I didn’t feel like I was watching actors, I felt like I was watching real people.

    Another aspect that really grabbed my attention is the Cold War setting. It is of course the perfect time period for any political thriller story (a real one at that). Despite it being decades ago, it is hard not to see the parallels between the Cold War era and present day. We get to see the xenophobia in USA surrounding communists and Soviet spies, people quick to draw conclusions from their emotion. Could we really say things are any different now? Unfortunately not. So it is interesting how the movie feels relevant in modern day politics. The second half of the movie shows the delicate nature of negotiations. There are moments of manipulations, lies, and deceit. Yet through all that a trust has to be built to have any movement in the talks. How the characters try to build that relation for mutual benefit is what intrigued me the most.

    I only have one complain, that is it feels like two movies in one. The first half feels like legal drama, and the second half is a political thriller. So I would’ve liked more consistency between the two plot lines. Bridge of Spies, in the end achieves the authenticity in its characters and the setting. That’s why I highly recommend seeing this movie. Personally, movies (not documentaries) that are based on real stories should prioritise authenticity and not accuracy. That I think are two very different things that deserves a whole entire post to explain.

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  • When a director as influential and brilliant as Steven Spielberg has a film coming out, you know it will be eagerly anticipated, add Tom Hanks to the mix, as lead actor, and you have the likelihood of a great film.

    Bridge of Spies is a political thriller. It focuses on the Cold War, a period in history that created huge tension between America and the Soviet Union, thus, it gave people a level of anxiety that is perfectly condensed in this film. It captures this eloquently with its hyper active opening sequence which follows suspected soviet spy Rudolf Abel as he is hunted by the CIA, through the streets and subway station of Brooklyn. This sequence perfectly sets the tone for the narrative to unfold and left the mysterious opening shot of Abel in front of two mirrors imprinted on my mind.

    The majority of the narrative follows James B. Donovan an American lawyer who is tasked with representing Able. Tom Hanks is superb as Donavan capturing the every man quality, while also winning investment into his character. His delivery of dialogue is top notch which is only what we come to expect from such an iconic actor. The other stand out is Mark Rylance who plays Able, the proposed soviet spy. His scenes with Hanks are some of the highlights of the film, Rylance plays Abel with a measured subtlety, he is a man of few words, but when he does offer up his monologues they are utterly magnetic.

    Long time partners, Spielberg and his cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, work wonders with the office and courtroom settings of the film. Spielberg’s camera work is incredible, as he cuts to close ups at precisely the right moments and executes his dialogue driven scenes with his own pure cinematic genius. The scenes shot in East Berlin are sublime with a true sense of chaos rampant on the streets.

    The film has a predictable narrative but it works because the dialogue, direction and performances keep all the attention. The screenplay was given a re-write by the Coen brothers and although you may never think this dialogue could be attributed by the Coen’s, there is comedic elements that make the film all the more engaging.

    Spielberg has highlighted the nations tension in many ways across the story. He has made a film were parallels are frequent and fears of some are actually fears of many. The mentality of this particular time is fascinating and is of course relevant today.

    Although I did find elements of the last act too simplistic and the story overly predictable that may just be accustom to the true tale behind this film. However the multiple endings did play into the overly sentimental associations with Spielberg and irritated me personally. That being said Bridge Of Spies is a solid political thriller that lends itself for a utterly captivating look at an honest man in a time of national treachery. I am going to give it an 8/10.

  • “I am Irish, you are German. But what makes us Americans? Just one thing, The rulebook. We call it the Constitution and agree to the rules, and that’s what makes us American.”

    Spielberg returns to the history of war long after “War Horse”, a story of a stallion with a Lassie attitude during WWI, but not with heroic images of the battlefield as in “Saving Private Ryan”. “Bridge of Spies” takes place during the Cold War. A period during which espionage was commonplace and super powers completely distrusted each other. As a result a whole arsenal of nuclear missiles were aiming at the main cities in both continents. Spies infiltrated into society and gave the authorities and agencies all sorts of secret information. And those spies just look like we imagined them. Dignified dressed men with a long coat and a stylish trilby, shyly and cautiously moving through the crowd and revealing a rolled up piece of paper somewhere out of a wall. After that they deciphered this message by means of an ingenious mechanism and a complicated decoding key in their sober furnished apartment. And that message contained the new coordinates where the next message was hidden. Well, in my childhood I imagined it would be like that.

    The most successful part of this film are the overall eye-catching images and decorations. The setting looks absolutely beautiful with lots of details. The city of New York in the 60s with its boulevards full of beautiful cars, the costumes, the atmosphere and family values in that period. Thus we are introduced to the the family of James Donovan (Tom Hanks). A typical American model family, residing in a house decorated in atom style, elegantly dressed in the fashion of those days and with a disciplined lifestyle. In contrast, a bit later we are witnessing the construction of the Berlin wall that splits this city into two parts. A grim, postwar, snow covered Berlin where heartbreaking scenes take place.

    Key figure in this espionage drama is James Donovan, an ordinary lawyer who’s specialized in legal cases with insurance companies. From one moment to the other he needs to defend the recently arrested Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance). In those days anyone or anything that has to do with communism is automatically suspicious and should be condemned immediately. This means that this cold-blooded spy can’t count on a fair trial. But they forgot about Donovan, because this principled lawyer convulsively believes in the constitutional rule that everyone, no matter what their crime or origin, is entitled to a defense and isn’t guilty until proved otherwise. The result is that the hostile public opinion isn’t only focused on Abel but also on Donovan, someone of Irish descent but American at heart.

    Did “Bridge of spies” make a huge impression on me? No not really. Not that the perfectionistic images are disappointing. Or that the acting is abominably bad. But because I wasn’t waiting for the umpteenth historical documentary about the 2nd World War. The used clichéd contradictions between the two superpowers was a bit to obvious. For instance, the circumstances of Abel’s imprisonment seemed more comfortable than those of the American prisoners in Eastern Europe. And the cunning way Spielberg bypasses the historical character and gives it a more adventurous and heroic touch, shows that he must make concessions to Hollywood’s management. On the other hand it was a relief to see that the image of a spy is shown in a realistic way. So don’t expect James Bond or Ethan Hunt situations, filled with impetuous action and death-defying stunts while making use of high tech gadgets. The spies in “Bridge of spies” are ordinary characters who perform their “spy-work” in a simple and less spectacular way.

    And finally, the importance of a star actor such as Tom Hanks is of course crucial for this film.Hanks is and will always remain one of my favorite actors. A charismatic and versatile actor who turns each role into a masterpiece. He dominates in every movie. Without Hanks this would only be a typical historical drama that has taken shape in the mind of the master himself, Steven Spielberg.

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  • A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook that his daughter had asked him who played the character called Hawkeye. “Alan Alda,” was my friend’s reply, thinking of the surgeon on TV’s “M*A*S*H”. But my friend’s daughter was asking about the Marvel Comics character in the “Avengers” films (played by Jeremy Renner). Besides amusing me, that little story got me thinking about how I was going to write my review of Steven Spielberg’s historical drama “Bridge of Spies” (PG-13, 2:21). If I’m going to discuss a movie in which “The U-2 Incident” plays such a big part, it might be a good idea to point out that this reference has nothing to do with ticket scalping at a rock concert or anything of the sort. In fact, to better appreciate this review and, more importantly, Spielberg’s film, you might want to do what I just did – reinforce and add to your historical knowledge of the aforementioned Cold War crisis, the Hollow Nickel Case and Rudolf Abel, Francis Gary Powers and James Donovan. Or… you could just read my review and then go to the film, not just for a great cinematic history lesson but to see one terrific movie.

    Tom Hanks stars as James Donovan, a New York insurance lawyer in the 1950s. Donovan is smart, honest, hard-working and, most importantly, he has principles and integrity – especially when it comes to the law. He has also served his country in uniform and assisted in the prosecution of Nazi war criminals in the post-World War II Nuremberg Trials. Donovan’s law firm’s senior partner (played, coincidentally, by the same Alan Alda mentioned in my previous paragraph) asks him to accept the thankless task of defending accused Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel (multiple Tony Award winner Mark Rylance).

    Donovan is understandably less than enthusiastic about all of this, but his sincere belief that “everyone deserves a defense” leads him to take the case. In spite of (and because of) his patriotism, he represents this obviously guilty spy as zealously and ethically as he represents all his clients. In the vehement and almost universal anti-communism of 1950s America, Donovan runs down every ground ball, making him one of the most hated men in America – and even endangering his family. His wife (Amy Ryan) supports him throughout the case, but she has some trouble understanding the lengths that he goes to for Abel.

    Fast-forward a few years. Abel is still in prison, and Donovan brings him a letter supposedly from his wife in the U.S.S.R. The letter amounts to a back-channel proposal from the Soviets to discuss trading Abel for recently captured U-2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell). C.I.A. director Allen Dulles personally asks Donovan to negotiate the swap – but as a private citizen, NOT as a representative of the U.S. government. Telling his wife he’s going on a business trip to London, Donovan heads to East Berlin, just as the politically divided city is being physically divided by the construction of the Berlin Wall.

    With a C.I.A. employee (Scott Shepherd) briefing and supporting him, but needing to otherwise keep his distance, Donovan begins his dangerous mission. Navigating check points and a street gang, he walks alone from West to East Berlin for an appointment inside the Soviet embassy. He meets unofficially with another man to, as Donovan says, “have the conversation that our governments can’t”. Further complicating an already tenuous negotiation is Donovan’s personal decision to insist that the prisoner swap include an innocent American university student recently detained by East German authorities. Clearly, it’s going to take every ounce of Donovan’s intelligence, skill and nerve to accomplish his objectives, not the least of which is avoiding getting shot or even detained and put on trial himself.

    “Bridge of Spies” is that rare movie that can make history come to life and give it the immediacy of a first-class cinematic drama/thriller. Of course, there are those (as two people behind me in the theater seemed to do) who will walk out of a movie if it isn’t very quickly filled with explosions, murders or at least a good chase scene, but short-sighted individuals like that miss an opportunity to enjoy the artistry of well-crafted stories that, sadly, are not as common as they used to be. This entire cast is exceptional, especially Hanks, who is as at the top of his game in full-on thinking man’s “boy scout” mode, and Mark Rylance who deserves significant awards season recognition and, of course, the always impressive Ryan.

    I should mention that the Cold War intrigue highlighted in the film’s trailers is all in the second half of the film, but the script, co-written by Matt Charman and none other than Ethan and Joel Coen, is smart and compelling throughout. That story, coupled with Spielberg’s expert touch, impressively recalls a time and tone that few Americans still remember, while giving us the twin dramas of a Soviet spy in the U.S. and a downed U.S. pilot in the Soviet Union. These two tales are seamlessly woven together and perfectly edited. The film also reminds us that what makes all of us Americans are not the political or religious beliefs we hold, but the principles we all stand for. “Bridge of Spies” is as American as apple pie and about as rewarding an experience as anyone, regardless of nationality, could hope a film to be. “A”

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