Bridge of Spies Review
(WATCH THIS CLIP, IT’S SOMEWHAT CRUCIAL TO THIS REVIEW)
I’m not going to bury the lead; Bridge of Spies is a really good movie. It is a film with a stance, that manages not to paint Americans or Russians of the 50’s as cartoons. You would think that be hard because the Tom Hanks role of Jim Donovan has a very strong point of view. He is a character who believes in honor and respect. It does not matter that he tasked to represent an enemy of his country. He believes in the law. He thinks that as an American sacrificing your principles during war is not an option.
We understand his view based on the embedded clip. For Hanks the rules and ideals he studied, which this country was built on, make him an American. By moving even an inch when it comes to reinforcing what he believes he would give up any right or pride in being a citizen. This is really the main conflict of the movie.
What he believes and how he has to pull everyone toward his viewpoint with a tongue of silver and a lead backbone makes for compelling drama. It also makes for some not half bad comedy sprinkled throughout. Not that you could avoid comedy when you have a movie written by the Coen Bros. A duo whose wit and even whimsy permeates Bridge.
Although I would call it revolutionary. It’s a movie that feels somewhat out of time. Out of time in the best way though. It does a good job of keeping you interested in the relationship between Donovan and his client the accused spy Rudolf Abel played by British actor Mark Rylance. Rylance manages to be very suppressed in his emotions. Quiet and pensive, but his very expressive face allows you connect to him the same way Hanks does. Through the sense of respect between these two characters you begin to want the eventual prisoner exchange to go smoothly.
“don’t you ever worry?”
“Would it help?”
But…. The prisoner exchange is actually the 2nd half of the movie. The first half is a procedural courtroom drama that also establishes the conflict of the 2nd half. We also see in this first half the affect that representing Abel has on his wife and children. We see his family get attacked and his children contemplate the idea of nuclear destruction. We also see how his wife suffers from her husband being abused in the press and in public. The film is smart though, every time we think maybe Tom Hanks should give up the Donovan character gives a monologue to us over. Each time Hanks gives you chills. Chills only this older version of Hanks can give you.
The real conflict however comes from a college student, named Frederick who is introduced the same time as Gary Powers. We learn once Hanks gets to East Germany that Frederic was recently arrested for espionage and that East Germany very much wanted to trade Fredric for Pryor. The FBI wanted to trade Abel for Powers. Here we see just were the priorities lye on both sides. Civilian life in the case of an individual is meaningless because the people in charge believe they are fighting for the future of mankind; we understand by the end just how dehumanizing such a cold war be.
The Donovan character refuses to trade Abel for just Powers or Fredric. In his mind Fredric offers no leverage to Germany and they should not be holding him without a valid reason. Hanks braves the streets of East Germany, trying not to get detained, shot or robbed while saving his fellow Americans. What makes this movie so entertaining is the Pragmatic way Hanks walks through this movie. Adapting where he can. Picking his battles carefully and knowing when to stop talking.
There is honestly so much to like about the movie. It does feel like every Spielberg movie… In the best possible way. This master of cinema has a level of control behind the camera that is unreal – if you are someone that notices, it goes beyond being a treat.
But don’t take my word for it. Go see Bridge of Spies yourself.