Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Matt Charman, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
Cast: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda, Austin Stowell, Jesse Plemons, Jon Rue, Scott Shepherd, Dakin Matthews, Mikhail Gorevoy, Sebastian Koch, Will Rogers and Amy Ryan
Synopsis: An American lawyer is recruited by the CIA during the Cold War to help rescue a pilot detained in the Soviet Union.
*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*
The Cold War was an important time in American, and Soviet Union, history. Both sides were at odds with each other and more importantly, both sides wanted information on the other. Steven Spielberg manages to bring some of the mindset to the big screen with his latest film Bridge of Spies, and who better to help him than someone that has proven to give him great work in the past in Tom Hanks. However, Bridges of Spies, which is based on true events, is actually composed as two films in one. One being a courtroom drama and the other being a spy thriller. The two blend together rather well, while also faltering a bit as it tries to handle a bit too much.
While the whole film is set during the height of the Civil War, the first half of Bridges of Spies follows James Donovan, a successful insurance lawyer who is suddenly picked by the government to “defend” a supposed Soviet spy in Rudolf Abel (Rylance). The idea is for Donovan to put on a show for the public and make it looks like Abel is getting a fair trial, even though he will be found guilty. However, Donovan isn’t all that thrilled with the idea since he will become a hated man and not only put himself in danger, but his family’s safety as well. But, to Donovan, there is something about Abel that intrigues him and sees that Abel isn’t really getting a fair shot, so he actually does his best to try and actually do his job much to the chagrin of his co-workers.
The second half of Bridges of Spies follows the heavily promoted material of Hanks’ Donovan going to Berlin, thanks to the help of the CIA, to discuss and work out a trade for pilot Gary Powers (Stowell), who was shot down, for Abel. Of course, not everything goes as planned and Donovan has to worry about not only making this deal happen, but also getting back home alive.
There is no mistaking that Bridge of Spies belongs to Tom Hanks. Hanks brings his likeability and nice-guy demeanor to Donovan that not only makes his performance work well, and makes us easily root for him, but also enhances the film. Donovan may be a by-the-book kind of guy, but he cares and there are moments where he’s conflicted about doing what’s right and what people are telling him is right. Near the end of the film, he makes a decision based on a new predicament that occurs that is extremely dangerous, and could have had extreme consequences. However, at this point of the film we already know how he will react. It’s great to see, but looking back, you can easily see how dangerous that would have been.
One of the things that also works extremely well is the relationship and chemistry between Hanks and Mark Rylance. It’s arguably the best working component of the film, and it disappears as Hanks and Rylance don’t share any screen time after the first act of the film. Thankfully, Hanks carries the film, but there is something about the relationship between Hanks and Rylance that makes the film tick and so engaging.
Rylance is also a standout on his own. The beginning of the film actually follows Rylance’s Abel in a cold – no pun intended – opening as we follow him, and as agents follow him too, doing what seems like a morning routine until he gets a call to pick up something that we, as the audience, know is incriminating. But Rylance doesn’t need to say anything – in fact, he doesn’t say much in terms of dialogue – because he has such an amazing screen presences that it helps not only his character, but the tension going in for the rest of the film.
However, despite amazing performances by Rylance and Hanks, the rest of the cast get only a few moments to shine, however not all of them work. Austin Stowell’s Gary Powers isn’t as intriguing as Abel, and after his introduction and getting shot down, he disappears with the exception of an integration scene. It’s kind of shame he’s not in the film more since he does play an important part for Hanks’ Donovan. Jesse Plemons also shows up as Powers’ friend and fellow pilot, but there isn’t really much for him to do. Amy Ryan pops in as Mary Donovan, who plays the part of concerned wife, but also somewhat understands why her husband does what he does.
Dakin Matthews plays Judge Byers during the first half of the film and does a pretty good job and reminds us that during this time of history, even people that are supposed to up hold the law took a side. Scott Shepherd plays CIA agent Hoffman which goes to Berlin with Donovan, and tries to keep Donovan on track that the deal is to make them the trade. Sebastian Koch plays Vogel, a man that Donovan thinks could help him with everything in Berlin, but something to Donovan feels off.
Bridge of Spies does stumble a bit near the middle of the film. A new plot point is introduced that doesn’t really do too much for the film other than give Donovan another obstacle to overcome. There are also a few plot points that a bought up, but never mentioned or even hinted at again as the film progresses. Yes, the film is all about Donovan and his task, but it would have been nice for the film to give some sort of resolution or a mention.
The film, again, really tries to put you in the mindset of the people living in the time. There is even a point in the film where Donovan makes a funny remark about his treatment in a certain place. Speaking of funny, Bridge of Spies has some surprisingly great humor injected into the film that breaks some of the tension and seriousness of the situations.
All in all, Bridge of Spies has a lot going on, and while most of it works, the missteps make it from being an even greater film. Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance’s chemistry makes the film pop and is the arguably the better part of the film, but make no mistake in saying that this film belongs to Hanks.
Bridge of Spies
4 out of 5