My pursuit in catching up on the bigger late releases of last year continues, leading me today to one I have been excited to see for a long time. Spielberg is back on form with his latest directorial movie “Bridge of Spies”.
Set in the heart of the Cold War and based on actual events, an insurance lawyer named James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) is tasked with defending a suspected Russian spy caught working in America named Rudolf Abel. (Mark Rylance) Knowing the case will stain his name, but determined to see that the convicted man gets a fair trial, James takes it on. But he has no idea that this decision will pull him right into the dangerous and secretive politics of the Cold War, as he enters the recently-walled East Berlin in order to organise a prisoner exchange.
Putting it simply, this is a historic piece that takes its source material quite seriously, while at the same time providing an absolutely wonderful glimpse into the world of fear and suspicion that resided between Russia and the United States at the time. The patriotic sentiments are pulled into the glaring sunlight and you see how any small error could have resulted in a full-on thermonuclear war. Every little element is on the razor’s edge, and kind of reminded me of the set-up that was used in “Argo”. No fires have been shot et, but it would take just a small mistake to unleash hell on everyone.
Where Steven Spielberg slipped previously with the period piece “War Horse”, he more than makes up for it here. The set designs and attention to detail in order to re-create the era are exquisite. From the office buildings and homes, to the collapse of Berlin, it is clear a lot of time went into their construction and working from photographic material from the time. The same can be said for the costumes and attire, which look genuine without being overly-lavish.
But what I think is the most effective part of the story, and a significant improvement from the previously-mentioned movie, is the script. The dialogue flows in a tremendously effortless way, every line gives weight to the characters, the situations, and the overall landscape that the movie is set within. Very often we see period-pieces get romantic arcs nailed to the pages, or moments of emotional emphasis that feel synthetic and fake. And yet somehow in here, I was sold on almost all of the dialogue and what it meant. The foundations are solid, and the translation of the dialogue into the scenes feels organic in a way that makes me almost think they had audio from the time to work from. It is wonderful.
I was genuinely impressed too by the performances too, Tom Hanks was perfectly suited for the main role as Donovan. Very calculating with a sharp mind, and able to see beyond what is being lay out before him, he helps to really make the script light up in that all-so-important way of convincing the audience. And if anything else Mark Rylance is even better. Being the Russian spy it would have been so easy to sell him as the villain, but he is delivered as simply being a soldier doing his job. The same as any other soldier would – never give up the information you were bestowed to keep secret. I was immersed in all of his sequences with Hanks, they may not be the most exciting scenes from 2015, but on a cinematic level they were some of the best I saw from last year.
Amy Ryan is set as Donovan’s wife, and although her scenes are relatively sparse, she does come across as being a thoroughly caring wife who feared what the Cold War may bring, but also respected the difficult task her husband had been set. Austin Stowell is also note-worthy as an American spy in here, and also takes part in one of the first tense pieces of the story. He’s a very good actor for sure, really dives into his character, but again his dialogue is a bit sparse for him to properly stamp his style upon the movie.
The film can suffer at times from being a slow-burner, and people who are not fans of dialogue-driven storylines might find this tedious. But “Bridge of Spies” has some outstanding performances made only better by spectacular direction and cinematography. It sounds great, looks great, and gives you an impression of how deep both sides were in before they realised there was no going back. It is captivating, and fascinating in a way I wish more factual movies were. It is very deserving of the praise that has been thrown its way, and will almost certainly go down as one of Spielberg’s best modern directorial creations.
Thanks for reading!