Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder and Editor
When it comes to historical highlights of the 20th Century (and beyond — i.e. Amistad) told in heart-wrenching authenticity and tasteful vision, very few other directors have managed to convey as much character and emotion as Steven Spielberg has in his latter-day projects.
Whether it’s about the horrors of the Holocaust (Schindler’s List), the Olympic hostage crisis (Munich) or one of the most celebrated American presidents (Lincoln), you know there’s a worthwhile experience waiting for you for a solid two to three hours.
Spielberg’s latest, a narrative about the 1960 prisoner exchange between Russia and the U.S. during the Cold War, is a chatty drama packed with great dialogue and inspired performances by Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance that never loses any of its intrigue and suspense, despite evolving like a captivating legal tale rather than a Bourne-like action thriller.
Tom Hanks plays James B. Donovan, the real-life no-nonsense lawyer with the unenviable task of trying to successfully negotiate the retrieval of downed U.S. pilot Gary Francis Powers from Soviet hands, all while developing an unusual rapport with his client, the KGB spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), captured as an uncooperative Soviet informant held by the Americans.
After unsuccessfully demonstrating how Abel’s sham trial makes a mockery of the judicial system based on fairness as opposed to political hysteria and public opinion, Donovan travels to West Germany in order to begin arrangements to exchange Abel for Powers — that is, until he learns that an American student named Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers) has been mistaken as a spy by East Germany and is being indefinitely detained.
It’s up to Donovan to use every ounce of guile to parlay a delicate game of diplomacy, hopefully bringing everyone home without any of the major players at the table losing face, potentially triggering another World War,
Beautifully shot in New York City, Germany and Poland by Spielberg regular Janusz Kaminski, Bridge of Spies flawlessly evokes the smoky, cold dampness of the Cold War years, with an increasingly complex government bureaucracy and foreign policy evolving slowly in the wings while the masses are too busy out front discovering the Beatles.
Spielberg wastes no time tapping into the excellent chemistry between his two leads, pitting the ever gallant Hanks against the stoic Rylance, whose Academy Award nominated performance maximizes his minimal but effective delivery as Abel. The resulting personality clash makes for uneasy partners, turning a cold client into an unlikely would-be friend, had the circumstances been oh so different.
This is one of Tom Hanks’ most enjoyably verbal role in years, thanks to a great script by Matt Sharman and the Coen Brothers (yes, the very same you’re thinking of.) Considered by many to be our generation’s Jimmy Stewart, Hanks embodies wholesome values once again, giving us a hero who’d rather use words and common sense rather than a gun and various spy craft.
Spielberg maintains the mood of the film appropriately, injecting levity when needed but keeping to the matter at hand, creating captivating mystery even though the story is historically well documented, denying many of us the chance of a surprise reveal by the end credits.
Part legal drama and part Le Carré intrigue of sorts, Bridge of Spies (named after the Glienicke Bridge connecting Potsdam and Berlin, essentially a diplomatic neutral zone) is another fine piece of history committed to film, a group effort to illustrate a key component of the last century which became a building block to lasting peace.
Nominated for Best Supporting Actor, Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Sound Mixing and a much deserved Best Production Design (the 60s look and feel is palpable on screen), this film is another top notch Spielberg project worth your time and money.
I urge you to see it.
4 out of 5
Dominic Messier is a media veteran who’s written and discussed movies for almost 20 years, from entertainment radio shows to newspaper columns to websites. Follow him on Twitter via @dommessier or join the Pop Culture Landscape with Dominic Messier page on Facebook.