Bridge of Spies

I have been excited about Bridge of Spies for a long time – since seeing the trailer months ago, I’ve wanted to watch this film. Tom Hanks never turns in a bad performance, and coupled with Steven Spielberg again, in a Cold War thriller – could it fail to be anything other than brilliant? The answer, unsurprisingly, is no.

Hanks plays James B. Donovan, an insurance lawyer appointed to defend Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) and ensure that he is seen to have a fair trial. Abel’s case is lost, but America’s hand is forced after the U-2 spy plane of Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) is shot down over the Soviet Union, with the pilot captured. The US government turns to Donovan to head to Russia and negotiate an exchange of spies – Donovan, however, having heard that the Stasi have captured a young American economics student named Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers), insists on bringing him home too.

The ingredients were all there from the start – a film starring Tom Hanks, directed by Steven Spielberg, a script by the Coen Brothers (and Matt Charman), a score by Thomas Newman – this was a project with the deck stacked in its favour for quite a long time. And the simple fact of the matter is that it isn’t – from its get-go, Bridge of Spies is an enthralling tale, a fascinating look at a true modern history story that chooses not to paint in broad strokes of moral ambivalence and futility – instead, we have a film that is uncynical and optimistic. Spielberg’s gift for craftsmanship shines through, putting this film a cut above, deal with the hope of Hanks’ character as equally as it does the tenseness built up by the situation.

Hanks is as you’d imagine – the everyman, but more so, his Donovan as homely as he is tenacious, and he assuredly holds the screen every second he is on. This is not to detract from his co-stars – far from it, with Rylance’s softly-spoken spy equally as compelling (on some occasions, arguably able to steal the scene from Hanks), and the scenes with the two together are masterclasses in what can happen if you let two fantastic actors loose with a quality script. No-one, however, turns in a duff performance, with no weak link threatening to derail the film at any point – this is a picture that knows what it’s doing, and does it with style.

There is so much to praise in this film that it almost feels a shame to have to pick and choose. Newman’s excellent score, not kicking in until about half an hour in and used sparingly to maximum effect, is but one example of this. It is very much more than the sum of its parts, and the parts in themselves are pretty damn great. And it is hard to ignore, of course, the real-life backdrop to this film, adding the messages and the lessons learnt by the characters an extra poignancy – this is a cinematic piece that shines a light on today as much as it does the Cold War nations.

This has been a year full of loud and shouty blockbusters, padded with explosions and such – this is most definitely not that. But what Bridge of Spies is is a wonderfully subtle dramatic piece that prizes dialogue about action, confident enough in its fantastic narrative to stride ahead, the tale of a man caught up in something bigger than himself who must rise to the challenge and does – this truly is one of the best films of the year, and you would be doing yourself an injustice were you to not see it.



Director: Stephen Spielberg
Cast: Tom Hanks (James B. Donovan), Mark Rylance (Rudolf Abel), Scott Shepherd (Hoffman), Amy Ryan (Mary Donovan), Sebastian Koch (Wolfgang Vogel), Alan Alda (Thomas Watters Jr.)
Running Time: 142 Mins
Country: USA

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Reece Goodall

One day, long ago, a man had a dream. Then he woke up and started writing film reviews instead.