Bridge of Spies is pretty much just a two and a half hour negotiation movie. But the dialogue, performances and craftsmanship of the movie elevate it to something great. It’s by no stretches one of Spielberg’s best but it’s always nice to see his take on an interesting historical period. He does a fantastic job of recreating the tensions of the time, not only in America but in Berlin too.
Tom Hanks plays an insurance lawyer called James B. Donovan who is tasked to defend a Russian spy after he is captured and sent to trial for conspiracy. However, after a U-2 spy plane is shot down leading to the pilot’s capture, Donovan tries to settle and agreement for an exchange.
As said, this movie isn’t a spy movie in the sense that 007 is, but much rather like Tinker Tailor Solider Spy. It doesn’t deal directly with the espionage yet that doesn’t make it less thrilling. For this movie to work, the character performances and dialogue needed to top notch, which they most certainly are. Tom Hanks immediately commands the audience’s attention and after a small monologue at the start becomes instantly likeable. Mark Rylance delivers a calm and collected performance as the Russian spy Rudolf Abel, which is a charming and sometimes humorous.
The movie has that Spielberg feel, but how this movie displays the tension and paranoia of the time, in a way that makes the audience anxious, really makes this movie shine. Once Donovan has assisted Abel, before the pilot is captured, the American public turns against him. The way this is filmed and acted is subtle yet affective. The little looks, the mummers and the silence really make you try to fill in the blanks. The opening scene is a perfect example of Spielberg’s craft, a chase scene that’s filmed in a very similar style to Saving Private Ryan’s D-Day. It’s chaotic, with each person loosing each other in waves of people, leading to me losing the actual spy and accusing the people around him. It gave a great sense of the cultural mind-set of Cold War America.
Despite the movie doing a great job of showing the paranoia of the common man, it also shows it in Donavan’s own home. Shots of nuclear safety videos are shown on the television as a constant reminder of the treat they are in. This leads to a tender and thought provoking scene were Donovan’s son questions his father’s actions and involvement with the Russians. This is in stark contrast to scenes we see in Berlin. We see the construction of the Berlin wall amongst the ruins of the city. Families flee as it’s erected, however some get trapped leading to a scene were we see the full force of wall’s security. You would expect these scenes to be tenser, yet they aren’t. The balance between America be trapped mentally and Berlin being trapped physically works incredibly well.
Recreating the paranoia of the Cold War isn’t an easy task. Spielberg excellently crafts this through body language and tone, never resorting to the cliché angry mob to show societies fear. Bridge of Spies is another engaging look into one of America’s successful political dealings. It feels much like Lincoln, the production design and performances are great but the subject matter of the movie doesn’t feel big enough to be contained in its rather slack runtime. Compared to Spielberg’s other historical dramas, it falls into the category of one of his weakest. This is not saying by any stretch that his is a bad movie; it’s just that this is exactly what you’d expect from a Spielberg drama. I’m glad Spielberg is returning to fantasy and science fiction because after this, Lincoln and War Horse it will be nice to see him focus on dreams and the future, rather than memories of humanities ugly past.