Movie Review: BRIDGE OF SPIES (2015)
Tom Hanks is sensational in BRIDGE OF SPIES (2015), Steven Spielberg’s compelling Cold War thriller based on the true story of an American lawyer who defends an accused Soviet spy.
Sure, Hanks is almost always good, but even so, this is probably my favorite Hanks’ performances in quite some time. While he was very good in CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (2013) I enjoyed him more here in BRIDGE OF SPIES. It might be my favorite Hanks’ performance since way back when in APOLLO 13 (1995).
BRIDGE OF SPIES opens in 1957 with the arrest of accused Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance). The U.S. government asks insurance lawyer James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) to defend him, and Donovan reluctantly agrees. It quickly becomes clear to Donovan that the U.S. justice system has already made up its mind about Abel’s guilt, and he is heavily criticized for putting up a valid defense for the man. This does not sit well with Donovan, and the more pressure he receives to just show up and let Abel be found guilty, the harder he works at defending Abel.
During this process, Donovan gets to know Abel quite well and a friendship of mutual respect develops. Later, when Air Force Lieutenant Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) is shot down and captured for the Soviets, a trade is suggested, Powers for Abel. The CIA asks Donovan to broker the trade, and to travel to East Berlin to do it. It’s a sensitive operation, as neither government will publicly acknowledge what’s going on, and so Donovan will be working in East Berlin on his own. Because of his feelings for Abel, Donovan agrees, and he finds himself embroiled in Cold War espionage as he has to deal with the Soviets, the East Germans, the lack of public support from the U.S., and his growing fear that by arranging this deal he might be sending Abel to his death at the hand of the Soviets.
The main reason to see BRIDGE OF SPIES is Tom Hanks because he delivers his best acting performance in years, but there are also plenty of other reasons to see it as well.
For starters, the director is Steven Spielberg. It’s hard to say if BRIDGE OF SPIES is better than Spielberg’s previous effort, LINCOLN (2012), a movie I liked a lot. It’s certainly equally as good. In some ways, it is better, as it definitely generates more suspense and drama than LINCOLN did. In terms of historical dramas, they’re on equal footing, but BRIDGE OF SPIES is paced slightly better and is definitely more intriguing. Both films feature phenomenal acting performances by their two lead actors, Tom Hanks here, and Daniel Day Lewis in LINCOLN.
In BRIDGE OF SPIES, Spielberg painstakingly recreates the Cold War period and thoroughly captures the feel of the time. Sets, costumes, and make-up are all topnotch, and the images memorable, some of them haunting, like the scene where Hanks witnesses the barbaric activity at the Berlin Wall from a passenger train.
The acting is superb throughout, with the other stand-out besides Hanks being Mark Rylance as Rudolf Abel. The scene where he recounts the story from his childhood about his father’s friend, who he relates to Hanks’ James Donovan, is another of the film’s highlights.
The screenplay by Matt Charman and Ethan and Joel Coen pretty much tells a straightforward story with the emphasis placed on James Donovan and how this ordeal both changed and shaped his life. It also details Donovan’s relationship with Rudolf Abel, and how the two men developed a mutual respect for one another. It’s a gripping historical drama, and it’s honest and direct. Don’t expect the quirkiness of some of Ethan and Joel Coen’s other movies, like FARGO (1996) and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007).
BRIDGE OF SPIES is the whole package. It’s got one of the all-time best directors in Steven Spielberg at the helm, phenomenal acting led by Tom Hanks, a superb script, and cinematography worthy of an artistic painting. It’s a satisfying cinematic event that is both entertaining and rewarding. Moreover, it succeeds in bringing a moment in our history to life.
BRIDGE OF SPIES is one bridge you’ll definitely want to cross.