“Bridge of Spies” Directed by Steven Spielberg

By on January 5, 2016

Director:

Steven Spielberg (“Schindler’s List”, “Saving Private Ryan”, “Lincoln”)

Main Cast:

Tom Hanks (“Philadelphia”, “Forrest Gump”, “Saving Private Ryan”)

Mark Rylance (This is the first film I’ve seen him in)

Alan Alda (“Same Time Next Year”, “Crimes and Misdemeanors”, “Manhattan Murder Mystery”)

Running Time:  141 Minutes

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bridge of spiesBridge of Spies” is director Steven Spielberg’s 27th feature film, fourth collaboration with Tom Hanks (“Saving Private Ryan”, “Catch Me if You Can”, “The Terminal”), and first without composer John Williams since 1985′s “The Color Purple” (which Quincy Jones scored).  Set during the Cold War, the film is about the 1957 capture and conviction of Soviet spy Rudolph Abel, the 1960 shooting down of an American U-2 spy plane over Russia and subsequent capture of pilot Gary Francis Powers, and the negotiations between the two countries to exchange Abel for Powers.

The film opens in New York City with Abel (3-time Tony Award winner Mark Rylance, below right with Tom Hanks) obtaining a coded Soviet message in a hollow nickel, then getting arrested for espionage while he’s painting a self-portrait (a clear nod to Normal Rockwell) in his apartment.  As he would during the rest of the story, Abel shows no emotion (his mantra throughout the film are variations of “What good would it do to worry?”), in spite of the intensity of his situation.   Manhattan insurance attorney James Donovan (Tom Hanks) is appointed to defend Abel, making them the two most despised men in the country (similar to how Atticus Finch was treated by the townspeople for defending Tom Robinson in “To Kill a Mockingbird” but on a much larger scale).  Abel is convicted and Donovan recommends he’s jailed instead of executed, in case the Soviets should likewise capture an American, in which case the U.S. would have leverage for an exchange.

ST. JAMES PLACEThree years later (May 1960), when Powers (Austin Stowell) is shot down and captured by Russians, the value of keeping Abel alive becomes apparent and the U.S. negotiates the exchange of Abel for Powers.  Seems easy enough.  To complicate matters, American college student Frederic Pryor, studying economics in West Berlin, is arrested on the wrong side of the Berlin wall and held without charge by East Germany.  In an effort to show the U.S. the East German is a significant world power, they similarly want to exchange Pryor for Abel.

bridge of spies wallBridge of Spies” is top-tier Spielberg and its similarities to his 1993 “Schindler’s List” and 1997 “Saving Private Ryan” are not limited to its war-time subject matter.  Cinematographer Janusz Kaminsky, who won Oscars for both those films, does similarly jarring, gritty work here.  The building of the Berlin Wall and especially the scene of people climbing the wall to get to the West side (from the perspective of Donavan while he’s on a moving elevated train) are stunning in their intensity and realism.  As you’d expect from a Spielberg film, all the technicals are solid, as is the acting, where Rylance, despite minimal screen time and in an understated portrayal, gives the best performance.  Hanks is reliably Hanks in his role as ordinary guy under extraordinary circumstances, although his presence as a celebrity looms over all his acting roles, as it does here.  Joel and Ethan Coen, whose “Hail, Ceasar!” is set to release in February, co-wrote the script with Mark Charman and it’s as good as any other aspect of the film*.

“Bridge of Spies” is a riveting and entertaining film that will give you a general understanding of significant events that occurred during the Cold War, a period of sustained paranoia for both the U.S. and Soviet Union that hopefully will never be repeated.

DPW

December 16, 2015

*As good as the script is and typical for a Hollywood film, it takes license with actual facts and history.  For instance, James B. Donovan is portrayed as just an insurance lawyer that’s in over his head when he’s chosen to defend Rudolph Abel.  In reality, Donovan was General Counsel for the Office of Strategic Services (the precursor to the CIA) during WWII under FDR.  He was later an assistant to Justice Robert H. Jackson during the Nuremburg trials.  Donovan was extremely connected with the country’s intelligence community long before his involvement in the Abel trial.

About Dan Walker

As part of an Air Force family, I went to elementary school in Great Falls, MT, junior high in Cheyenne, WY and high school and college in the San Francisco Bay Area, graduating from San Francisco State University with a degree in business. I was fortunate to have worked for great companies in Silicon Valley (Oracle Corp) and Hollywood (Miramax Films). I also lived and worked (primarily in financial services, which has no great companies) for eight years in Manhattan, New York City. I now reside in New York's beautiful Hudson Valley.

One comment on ““Bridge of Spies” Directed by Steven Spielberg

  1. Jeremy on said:

    Excellent Review Dan!

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