It’s a reasonably safe bet that when two legends of modern cinema get together for a film, it’ll be worth your while. When those legends are named Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, that bet is almost a sure one. Bridge of Spies is an exquisite historical drama with ridiculously good performances from Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance.
The film, based on a true story, is set towards the beginning of the Cold War, and centers around James Donovan (Tom Hanks), a U.S. attorney who’s cajoled into defending a Russian spy in court, and the subsequent complications that develop between the two countries when Russia captures a U.S. pilot. Donovan as an accomplished and upright lawyer, putting his career and family at risk to defend the most hated man in America, is perfectly suited to Tom Hanks who has built a career on roles in which an ordinary man is faced with difficult moral choices. He plays off splendidly against Mark Rylance, whose understated performance is a masterclass in the less-is-more school of acting. His character Abel Rudolf, is similar in tone to Donovan’s inasmuch as neither will veer from the path of righteousness even when the easy way is far more attractive. Rudolf as a Soviet spy (or Russian spy, the terms are used interchangeably in the film) rewrites the book about what a spy is and how they operate and compels the audience to empathize with him, in some respects more than one would with Donovan (Spielberg achieved the same effect in Catch Me If You Can in which he had us rooting for the incorrigible con artist as much as for the good cop, played by Hanks again).
The set designs are better than in any film in recent memory. From New York to East Berlin to West Berlin, the colours and backgrounds are wildly different and painstakingly detailed. The contrast between the countries in terms of ideologies, social framework and security is stark and manifested as much through the dialogue as through the visuals. Though it’s obvious that the film is made by an American, the notion that there is prejudice is easy to jump to but mostly incorrect. Still, one does see some very subtle signs of it that may annoy some but that said, the fact that Rudolf, the Soviet spy, is portrayed as consistently strong-willed and virtuous is good evidence that the film stayed focused.
Fans of history are treated to scenes of the Berlin Wall being constructed from the ground-up in the midst of the forlorn denizens. This lends itself to an important subplot in the film wherein an American student is arrested and imprisoned by the German police. The wheels are then set in motion for what the movie is all about – a three-way tug o’ war between the U.S., Russia and Germany, with differing motivations and methods, jockeying for position in a highly charged political climate with the stakes being public perception and geo—political influence, to be gained or lost through the dynamics of an exchange of prisoners.
The story is not particularly deep or layered as could easily have been the case given the era and theme; this works in the film’s favour as since one’s attention isn’t tasked with trying to keep up with the flow, one can focus on appreciating the set designs and the terrifically nuanced performances of the leads. Bridge of Spies works at every level it seeks to works in. From the initial sequence introducing Abel, to the parting shot of Donovan, there is no misstep, nor an unnecessary scene or statement. It is Spielberg and Hanks at their best.
Oh and if you’re seeking a bit of a rush, wait for the air-crash sequence. It’s one of the best ever made.
Written by Rabindra Dube for Jivewithdeepti #JWDFilmReviews