Bridge of Spies (2015)
dir. Steven Spielberg
written by: Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
starring: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda, Amy Ryan
3.5 out of 4 stars
Movies during the Cold War era do not commonly interest me. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. certainly did not help earlier this year, so when Bridge of Spies was released, I had no particular interest in seeing it. With its Best Picture nomination, I moved it up the queue and finally got around to seeing it. Why do I ever doubt Spielberg is going to entertain me? Well, because The Terminal happened, and he is never allowed to forget it!
America’s favorite–actor, the Everything-winning duo have returned to tell a story of bargaining. Tom Hanks plays James Donovan, an insurance lawyer, who is approached by the U.S. Government to defend accused Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance). After the tense, attention-and-gunshot inducing trial, Hanks is further recruited to mediate the trade of US Citizens for Abel in recently annexed East Berlin. Mixed with international intrigue and impending nuclear war, Bridge of Spies monopolizes on the tense culture of the time and explores the principles of the justice system in America.
Tom Hanks produces the same strong work we’ve come to expect from him in the last thirty years. Fitting nicely as a man garnering heat and brushing it off, Hanks is immediately likable as an ethical man with an unshaken belief that everyone, including spies, deserves a fair trial by jury. Encountering gangs in East Berlin and facing violence toward his family, Hanks glides effortlessly through this role, none of the war of Saving Private Ryan, the physicality of Captain Phillips, or the sole crushing emotion of Cast Away.
Mark Rylance provides the performance that steals the show. Better known for stage and television work, Rylance meanders into this movie with the collected guise of a Soviet agent undercover. He betrays little emotion, but unlike a dead-eyed performance, he hides the bubbling stress below ample training. Never a line wasted, Rylance is exactly who he should be at every moment. Dumbfounded when questioned, unflinching with Hanks. He creates a quiet performance deserving the expected acclaim.
With a script from Matt Charman, screenwriter for the still unreleased Suite Francaise, and the Coen Brothers, masters of any era they touch, the film maintains momentum and contains more interesting dialogue than would be expected; I’m guessing the second billing might have the Coens as script enhancers, similar to last year’s Unbroken but with far more luck. Spielberg molds his world to provide a handsome period piece with far more intrigue than the synopsis conveys. Oddly enough, I’m interested in a sequel regarding Donovan’s experiences in Cuba as described in the epilogue.