By Laurie Coker
Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies is a subtle, yet emotionally stirring, historically-based film. Co-writers Joel and Ethan Coen, from an original script by Matt Charman, weave a watchable tale of cold war espionage, but perhaps more importantly, they offer up sharp dialogue and rich characters that clearly represent the theme of honor amongst men. Coming in not too far off award season, Bridge of Spies offers up at least two prize-worthy performances by Tom Hanks and co-star Mark Rylance. Occasionally a bit to feel-goody in tone for such a serious subject, over all, Bridge of Spies demonstrates what quality film’s look like.
Set during the late 1950s and spanning into the 60s, when the cold war loomed, bomb shelters seemed a viable family investment, children learned to duck and cover under school desks, the Berlin wall appeared and integrity was still a valuable commodity, Spielberg’s film follows the arrest and subsequent conviction of Rudolph Abel (Rylance), an artist, principled man and a soviet spy. His American insurance lawyer, James B. Donovan (Hanks), who once practiced criminal law, takes the case. From the onset, Donovan, recruited by the CIA, plans to offer Abel the best possible defense, in spite of threats and harassment and pressure from the higher-ups. Sticking hard to his values, Donovan sees Abel as a man, just like any other, who does what he does for God and country, and Donovan defends him as such. As a strategy to keep him alive, Donovan uses the possibility of Abel as a potential means for prisoner negotiations between the US and Germany and Russia, Donovan keeps Able off death row, and not long afterwards, he finds himself in a tricky game where prisoners are pawns and masterful deception determines the outcome of people lives.
Hanks is perfection as Donovan, once again demonstrating his gift as an actor. Next to him it might be a challenge to stand out, but Rylance, a renowned stage actor, does. When the pair appears together entertaining, charismatic interaction transpires, their time impeccable. Because of them, an outstanding supporting cast and seamless pacing by Spielberg, the film’s 142 minute run time flies by. Cinematographer Janusz Kamiński takes every advantage of Adam Stockhausen remarkable production design and the proof is in the details and the flawlessness in each scene. The audience is there, transported to a time in history and while little really happens (not a typically spy thriller) and it is held, mesmerized to the edge of the seats.
Bridge of Spies,rated PG-13, might have been more aptly titled Standing Man, but regardless of this opinion, Spielberg gives us a gift – a gorgeous movie, with notable talent from original script to screen. It harbors the nuances of a vintage film, and even with the heart-tuggy moments, it feels genuine in all ways positive. I am placing an A in my grade book. If vintage denotes integrity and decency, then Bridge of Spies is textbook in these themes. We need men now, like Donovan and Abel, men who while diverse in lives and culture, exemplify what it means to be honorable.