Bridge of Spies reviews

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Re: Bridge of Spies reviews

Postby ITALIANO » Sat Dec 19, 2015 2:35 pm

I was certainly naive in expecting a subtle character study a la The Spy Who Came in from the Cold - this is, after all, a Steven Spielberg movie. But if not that, tension could have certainly been provided - yet the movie is almost completely devoid of suspense (except maybe a bit in the bridge scene). It is always watchable, and Berlin during the Cold War is an undeniably "unique" setting - but you feel that the same story could have been told in half the (long) time. The acting isn't bad but - except for Mark Rylance - none is really memorable.

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Re: Bridge of Spies reviews

Postby CalWilliam » Tue Dec 08, 2015 1:29 pm

It's a perfectly respectable piece of filmmaking. Spielberg is the greatest craftsman alive in my opinion. It's a pity that he always has to please everybody, and that his worship for America and policital correctness spoil all his film's endings in some way or another. He's the universal entertainer. One can feel the grandfather, the father, the aunt, the grandmother, the cousin and so on going out the theatre once the movie has finished with that warm feeling of serenity, the restrained joy of having spent some money properly watching a good film, whose material won't offend anybody no matter what. I have to admit that I was ultimately moved by the film, though in no way that means this is high class stuff, but my point is that he knows so well which buttons to touch that it's pretty admirable. Tom Hanks is admittedly good as always, without being exciting at all. He's the perfect man for Steven. The Coen's spark is there somehow, but they are too respectful to what the film wants to be that it doesn't make any difference. The production design and the atmosphere are really great. And then is Mark Rylance, who moved me with so little. It's a kind of performance rarely seen nowadays, so subtle, so expert, so beautiful. I hope he wins the Oscar, but I'm dubious about how this great unshowiness will do with the Academy. He will be there for sure, but Stallone IS a real threaten like Mad Max is, and that disturbs me. The days when performances like Jason Robards' or Glenda Jackson's won are over.
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Re: Bridge of Spies reviews

Postby Sabin » Sat Nov 28, 2015 2:41 am

Bridge of Spies consistently reminded me of J. Edgar, another movie I enjoyed purely on the basis of its subject matter. Considering that Steven Spielberg is directing instead of Clint Eastwood and that the Coen Brothers are writing instead of Dustin Lance Black, it's not surprising I enjoyed this film more. It serves as a good companion piece to Lincoln as another talky history lesson. Unlike Lincoln, another complex narrative, it doesn't have a strong sense of purpose. Bridge of Spies feels bisected into homefront and abroad legal procedural and both are meaty enough to inspire an entire film. I would argue that the major failing of this film is that it never quite finds weight in the trade off of one Russian for two Americans in the same way that every scene in Lincoln carries the weight ending slavery. They toss off the American student by suggesting that he's the same age as Hanks' legal aide but it doesn't really work and the second half of the film gets by mainly on fun scenes replete with amusing yet specific Eastern German caricatures that feel like the contribution of the Coen Brothers.

But somewhere in the center of the film is something that I enjoyed even though it manifested itself in minor form. It was present in Lincoln and I hope Spielberg continues to explore it because it is a rather square notion: faith in the American Democratic process. Hanks' Donovan is acting as a free agent in Germany but also within America as well. Nobody wants him to do any of the things that will result in this incredible negotiation, and there's comedy in this that goes somewhat unrealized. I think there were a lot of missed opportunities in other people reacting to him in the same way that Day-Lewis' Lincoln exasperated those around him with his folksiness.

The film's multiple endings present a lack of clarity on the part of the filmmakers. I agree with BJ that the finest ending is the one that would confront Donovan with what exactly it was that he achieved. Instead they go onto validate him again and again but I like the idea of ending this film and leaving this character for once with a degree of uncertainty. I think the reason why I can forgive this artistic lapse is because it works rather well as just a straight piece of wiki-history filmmaking.
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Re: Bridge of Spies reviews

Postby danfrank » Sun Nov 01, 2015 12:28 pm

Count me unimpressed with this. It's well made, of course, because it's Spielberg. But... if you're going to make a spy movie, make a spy movie! The emotional tone here is so light-hearted and full of chuckles. The plotting was pretty simple without any real compelling twists or turns that you would expect in this kind of movie. I'm not sure what part the Coen Brothers had in this script, but I wasn't super-impressed with it (speaking of the Coen Brothers, the trailer for their next movie is a total kick!). In 2015 it just doesn't work for me to try to recreate a Jimmy Stewart-wholesome-gee whiz isn't America great-lily white world. Spielberg has made way cornier movies, but somehow it's more palatable for me when he goes full-on corn instead of having it spill out in a spy movie. The look of this movie wasn't one of Spielberg's best, either. Kaminski overdoes it with all the hazy light coming through windows, present in about half the scenes. I agree with Tee that the best set piece was the bridge at the end. I also liked the very brief Soviet courtroom with the camera pulling back. Rylance was indeed the best of the actors, though not much is ultimately revealed about his character except that he has an exceptionally good spy poker-face and that he developed an affection for the Tom Hanks character. It would have been so much better not knowing what would happen to Abel, but Spielberg has to spell it all out that everybody lived happily ever after. This is a crowd-pleasing movie (a good amount of applause at the end in my theater) but far from Best Picture material in my book. Which means, of course, that it will probably be nominated.

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Re: Bridge of Spies reviews

Postby The Original BJ » Mon Oct 26, 2015 9:24 pm

I'm in agreement with Mister Tee's take on the movie (though, of course, I wasn't around to vouch for the inaccuracy of the subway cars). I thought the material was pretty consistently engrossing -- when the movie was over, I was shocked to realize how long it was, because, despite having a pretty deliberate pace, it felt like it was packing a lot of story into its running time. And I think the movie explores some compelling moral quandaries, using this specific incident to get at some complicated ideas about Cold War realpolitik. (Also, for such a somber-looking movie, it's often light on its feet -- you can feel the Coen brothers' sense of wit in the writing throughout.)

But I concur that the movie never really kicks into high-gear in any way. Spielberg has occasionally been over-reliant on the big set piece throughout his career, but here I felt like the movie could have used something along those lines, the sort of bravura filmmaking moment that really helps amp up the impact of the storyline. I don't think Lincoln had a moment like this either, but in that case, I felt the script/performances were at such a high level of accomplishment, and I didn't think that material merited it, so I didn't miss it. Here, though, it would have fit right in with the film's genre, and could have provided a jolt to a very solid but not hugely dynamic narrative.

I also think the filmmakers struggle a bit to figure out what they're trying to say at the end of the movie. (No big spoilers here, but perhaps avoid if you don't know the actual facts of how this story ends.) There's a moment I really liked -- when Rylance gets into the car, and the film suggests his future could be somewhat grim -- and Hanks's character is forced to weigh his feelings about this with the success he has achieved. But then the movie runs into actual history, and we learn that everything turned out well for everyone; even the judgmental lady on the subway comes around to honoring Hanks. And then after THAT, there's the shot of the kids scaling the wall, reminding Hanks of how much work still has to be done to bring about the Cold War's end. It seemed to me like the filmmakers WANTED to include a sense of ambiguity in the finale, but kept getting caught on contradictory impulses to tie everything up with a bow, as well as certain un-alterable facts. As a result, I didn't feel the movie had quite worked out its thoughts on how best to end this story so that it conveyed any great level of insight.

The actors are good throughout. I don't think this Hanks performance is up to the level of Captain Phillips -- certainly there's no moment here as noteworthy as the last scene in that film -- but he's consistently solid. (I wonder, given how many Best Actor candidates seem to be flailing, if everyone is underestimating Hanks as a nomination candidate. If the movie goes over well, he seems like as solid a default option as any.) It's always nice to see Amy Ryan, though she seems to have settled into a career of these mostly interchangeable wife roles in a way that has me wishing she'd get another part of some note soon. Best in show, as everyone has said, is Mark Rylance. I haven't seen any of his much-lauded stage roles, but here he's transfixing in a quiet role, but one to which he brings great sensitivity. I agree that he's a very likely Supporting Actor nominee (though I am puzzled by Reza's comment that he's this year's "easy" winner.)

Overall, not a movie I'm in love with, but one with many respectable qualities.

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Re: Bridge of Spies reviews

Postby Big Magilla » Mon Oct 19, 2015 11:00 am

Tee, your memory is right on. Here's Lou Loumenick's fully detailed article on the R32 subway car:

http://nypost.com/2015/10/18/spielbergs ... c-subways/

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Re: Bridge of Spies reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Sat Oct 17, 2015 3:21 pm

dws1982 wrote:
Mister Tee wrote:The period recreation is mostly impressive in a low-key way, but, as someone who rode the outer-borough subways in the 50s, I call foul there: the cars they use didn't turn up till the mid-60s. I can't fathom they could have been so sloppy in that department.

I don't know the history of the New York subway system, or when cars were updated and replaced, but the movie isn't set in the 50's is it? The U-2 incident and negotiation were in 1960-62, which means the cars in the film could still be anachronistic, I guess.

The initial scenes, when Hanks is defending Rylance, start in 1957, and that's when the subway ride that got me rankled took place. My recollection is the first set of newer cars arrived about the time of the Worlds Fair, in 1964.

Here's a picture I found of what the cars actually looked like back then:

https://www.google.com/search?q=new+yor ... L_VQFmY%3D

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Re: Bridge of Spies reviews

Postby dws1982 » Sat Oct 17, 2015 3:02 pm

Mister Tee wrote:The period recreation is mostly impressive in a low-key way, but, as someone who rode the outer-borough subways in the 50s, I call foul there: the cars they use didn't turn up till the mid-60s. I can't fathom they could have been so sloppy in that department.

I don't know the history of the New York subway system, or when cars were updated and replaced, but the movie isn't set in the 50's is it? The U-2 incident and negotiation were in 1960-62, which means the cars in the film could still be anachronistic, I guess.

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Re: Bridge of Spies reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Sat Oct 17, 2015 12:40 am

The movie gets by basically on the strength of its interesting story. It manages to deal with multiple story-lines without any feeling of being scattershot, and brings those stories together for a satisfying conclusion. And at least a number of scenes (especially the early ones, with Hanks and Rylance) are well written enough. But the story never rises above interesting -- it never takes flight. I suppose one should be grateful it wasn't sentimentalized further (as Spielberg has been wont to do at times), but I longed for some feeling that went beyond mild engagement. The film in the end gave me some sense of having been cobbled together from other, more distinctive films (a little LeCarre here, some Capra there, and a head-cold swiped from The Apartment).

And, visually, I think this is one of Spielberg's least impressive efforts. What distinguished his early work, even when the material was trivial, was the kinetic energy he brought to his graphics; his pictures moved you in unexpected ways. It's not as if nothing works here -- the final sequence on the bridge is arresting enough, and there are flashes here and there. But much of the film could have been directed by any solid/stolid Golden Ager -- George Stevens or Fred Zinnemann.

I'm afraid the loose/live-wire Tom Hanks is gone forever -- watching him now, the worry lines seem permanently fixed on his face. But, of his latter-day performances, this may be the one I've enjoyed most thoroughly -- he seems to enjoy himself, in character, which makes his Bill Donovan a bit more than the standard Hanks-ian hero. Mark Rylance is also very good, and a likely supporting nominee -- his Oscar clip is a snap to identify -- but I was surprised (and disappointed) at how completely he disappears from most of the film's last hour.

The period recreation is mostly impressive in a low-key way, but, as someone who rode the outer-borough subways in the 50s, I call foul there: the cars they use didn't turn up till the mid-60s. I can't fathom they could have been so sloppy in that department.

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Bridge of Spies reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Sun Oct 04, 2015 10:32 pm

Variety
Peter Debruge
Chief International Film Critic @AskDebruge

It’s no small feat turning a shyster and a spy into national heroes, but that’s the unique achievement of Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies.” If Jimmy Stewart were alive today, the director surely would have asked him to play James Donovan, a noble New York insurance lawyer roped into providing an alleged Soviet agent with pro-bono legal representation, who later goes on to broker his exchange for two Americans held captive by Commies. Failing that, he’d done one better and cast honorary Boy Scout and all-around good guy Tom Hanks in the role, transforming a potential indictment of patriotic hypocrisy and Cold War subterfuge into a riveting, feel-good time for the whole family (two instances of the “F-word” notwithstanding), putting it on track to top “War Horse.”

Spielberg may as well have gone full-“R” with this deliciously shady spy-swap plot, as the richly recreated period drama — which benefits from a crackling Coen brothers script polish — boasts more courtroom time than it does actual cloak-and-dagger intrigue (in one scene, Hanks’ runny-nose hero literally has his cloak stolen off his back by East German street thugs). While the helmer’s myth-making approach makes for great Capra-esque entertainment, younger auds may find it terribly old-fashioned — and they’d be right to think so, although Spielberg would be the first to admit it was his intention to play things classical, resolutely shooting on celluloid, while blending aspects of a tony legal thriller with a hat-tip tribute to the rich, expressionistic look of 1940s film noir.

In Donovan, Hanks finds one of the chewiest late-career roles the actor could possibly hope for, playing the New York attorney with fists balled and belly slightly paunched, simultaneously non-threatening and ready for a fight. Called into the office of his good-old-boy boss (Alan Alda), he has no choice to take a case that he recognizes will surely make him unpopular, defending Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance, a remarkable theater actor with a relatively short screen c.v.), whom the FBI have arrested and charged as a Russian spy.

The year is 1957, and accusations of being “Russian” are as offensive as the dreaded “F-word” is today. “Bridge of Spies” evokes the era as one of mounting thermonuclear hysteria and alarming group-think, in which a lawyer who advocates for an enemy agent can be seen as a traitor to his own country (potentially worse than Abel, who wasn’t American to begin with). “Everyone will hate me, but at least I’ll lose,” he jokes, though even his flag-pledging family — meatloaf-making wife Amy Ryan, plus three kiddos who practice Bert the Turtle’s “Duck and Cover” drills in class — question his loyalties.

Because this is Hanks we’re dealing with, audiences know what to expect, though the revelation here is Rylance (an actor Spielberg also cast as his forthcoming BFG), who appears utterly transformed — to the few who recognize his typically charismatic screen presence — into a balding, Eeyore-like gray moth of a man. Though there can be no doubt Abel is a spy, the film prefers to depict him as a relatively innocuous painter, earning from us a sympathy that no American citizen would have felt at the time. This is an essential strategy in all that follows, considering that “Bridge of Spies” depends on our believing that Donovan and Abel are the most noble men in the film, each committed to their respective ideals: in Donovan’s case, “what makes us Americans” (the Constitution), and in Abel’s, doing whatever he’s told to undermine it.

If the basic narrative of “Bridge of Spies” were to take place today and a foreign agent were arrested in New York City, the poor sap — who’d surely be labeled a “terrorist,” rather than a “spy” — would be shipped off to some torture-friendly detainment facility never to be heard from again, not assigned a lawyer of Donovan’s caliber. But Spielberg has no room for such cynicism, recasting the Coens’ neo-nihilist distrust of the system as comedy (the siblings reworked “Suite Francaise” co-writer Matt Charman’s script, and while he was the one to unearth this terrific true story, the Coens’ fingerprints are all over its telling).

Simultaneous with all of Donovan’s legal dealings, another spy story unfolds, as the CIA recruits an elite group of pilots to “drive” high-altitude camera-equipped U-2 planes over Soviet airspace. As “Bridge of Spies” repeatedly — and rather eloquently — reminds, the Cold War was one of information, not necessarily weaponry, and in these exciting, if somewhat clunkily integrated scenes, we see how America fought for an edge in this intelligence battle. We also meet lantern-jawed Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell), who will be shot down in the film’s most dynamic sequence — a rare taste of action amid so many slick wheeler-dealer proceedings.

As it turns out, insurance-savvy Donovan was right to plead that the judge spare Abel’s life, as the Soviet spy now gives America a bargaining chip to trade for Powers’ return — a responsibility that falls to Donovan after Hoffman, the CIA stooge (Scott Shepherd) who’d strong-armed him earlier, returns to beg his assistance. Given the political sensitivities between the two atomic-trigger-happy nations, the Agency insists that Donovan make the deal as a private citizen with no ties to the U.S. government, which suits the film just fine, as it gives Hanks every opportunity to go rogue.

The CIA is only interested in Powers, but Donovan — who tells his family that he’s going salmon finishing in England — has decided that he won’t settle for less than two freed Americans: He plans to bargain for the release of a second prisoner as well, Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers), an American economics student who managed to get himself caught on the wrong side of the newly erected Berlin Wall. Pryor complicates things not only for the deal, but for the script as well, though a sappy reenactment of his arrest does provide Spielberg with the chance to show the construction of the landmark that later came to signify the Iron Curtain.

A scene in which Donovan watches East German escapees gunned down while trying to scale the wall, later echoed by fence-climbing children back home in New York, is a touch too far, the sentimental girl-in-red indulgence the director allows himself here. Otherwise, he plays much of what unfolds in the film’s overseas second-act for absurdist comedy: With the exception of Sebastian Koch’s enigmatic East German lawyer, the Krauts are all played by odd-looking character actors with silly accents — although to be fair, the crew-cut G-Men aren’t especially nuanced either. The movie slyly plays it both ways, criticizing the sort of blind American boosterism of the era while indulging in cheap xenophobic barbs, as when Donovan criticizes newly christened countries the German Democratic Republic and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics for choosing names that are far too long, evidently forgetting the mouthful from which he hails.


Hollywood Reporter
by Todd McCarthy

The Bottom Line
A good time in the good old Cold War.

A feel-good Cold War melodrama, Bridge of Spies is an absorbing true-life espionage tale very smoothly handled by old pros who know what they're doing. In its grown-up seriousness and basis in historical conflict, Steven Spielberg's first feature since Lincoln three years ago joins the list of the director's half-dozen previous “war” films, but in its honoring of an American civilian who pulled off a smooth prisoner exchange between the East and West during a very tense period, the film generates an unmistakable nostalgia for a time when global conflict seemed more clear-cut and manageable than it does now. Spielberg's fourth collaboration with Tom Hanks, which world premiered at the New York Film Festival and opens commercially on October 16, looks to generate stout box-office returns for Disney through the autumn season.

For people of Spielberg's generation, the early years of the nuclear era and the stand-off between the United States and the Soviet Union represents a significant part of the fabric of childhood. With the passage of time, it's possible to tell stories of the time without furnishing them with overt propagandistic overlays, and for Westerners there is the added built-in appeal of the “we won” factor and the perception that dealing with adversaries was so much simpler then than it is now.

As their focus in this impeccably rendered recreation of a moment in history, most palpably represented by the building of the Berlin Wall, Spielberg and screenwriters Matt Charman and Ethan and Joel Coen have chosen a sort-of Atticus Finch of the north, a principled, American Everyman insurance attorney unexpectedly paged to represent a high-level Soviet spy caught in New York. There is no question that Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) is guilty, but James B. Donovan (Hanks), a proper and decent family man with a professional dedication to his client and an abiding loyalty to the principles of the U.S. Constitution, is a quick and intuitive read of any legal situation and shrewdly stays at least one step ahead of the game in almost any situation.

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The story plays out over a period of five years, from the time when British-born Soviet spy Abel is captured in 1957 to the suspenseful moment in February, 1962, when Abel is traded by the U.S. for captured U-2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers, who had been shot down in 1962, along with an American student, Frederic Pryor. But the filmmakers' slight-of-hand skill compresses events dramatically to make it all seem to take place in a much shorter period of time, a feeling accentuated by Donovan's own impatience to make the wheels of justice and international diplomacy turn far more quickly than they ever actually do.

The wonderfully comprehensive but unstressed detailing of 1950s American life in the opening stretches slides the viewer ever-so-smoothly into the period, with a very different Brooklyn and New York subway system serving as convincing backdrops to the FBI's pursuit of Soviet agent Abel as he paints a landscape on a lovely afternoon. Plain-faced and nondescript in the extreme (no doubt the ideal for a spy), Abel never breaks a sweat and seems imperturbable no matter how dire things look for him. When asked, repeatedly, by Donovan if he isn't worried or nervous when faced with great jeopardy, or even the prospect of the death sentence, his typical response is, “Would it help?”

Plucked from the prosperous law firm where he is a partner to represent this resilient sad-sack of a client, Donovan has no chance of winning this case but uncannily presents a strong argument for not putting Able to death—his potential as a high-value swap for an American spy at some future moment; as he wryly points out, it's always wise to carry insurance. All the same, his victory in this matter makes him seem disloyal, even traitorous; fellow subway riders give him the evil eye, his legal colleagues give him the cold shoulder, and his house is even attacked at one point.

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At what seems narratively like the same time, all-American he-man jet pilot Powers (Austin Stowell) is trained with three others to fly in the U-2 spy plane program, which involves flying slow, lightweight jets at 70,000 feet to take highly detailed photographs of military installations within the Soviet Union. Stationed in Pakistan, these pilots are clearly instructed to commit suicide if shot down deep into enemy territory. But in a stunningly rendered sequence, Powers' plane is strafed and starts spinning down, while his parachute cord becomes stuck when he tries to bail out. In the end, he survives and becomes the most high-profile American prisoner in the Soviet Union.

With Donovan's prescient prediction of future events born out, the film elevates to a new level of intrigue, tension and complexity as the lawyer is dispatched to a Berlin about to divided by a wall being built by the East Germans. Spielberg's fleeting imagery of this indelible moment in history is exceptional and vivid; East German workers toil building the wall's blocks as citizens hustle to get across to the West before it's too late and, later, Donovan and other passengers on an elevated train are stunned to briefly witness East German guards gunning down some people trying to make it up and over the wall.

Another scene during this stretch, of an American student, Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers), trying to get his East German girlfriend across the divide just at the moment when the wall has been sealed up, strikes the only overtly melodramatic and false note in the film to that point. But there are wonderful and fresh scenes to follow, as when Donovan, arriving for a big meeting in East Berlin, is greeted by Abel's so-called family members, who are obviously actors playing the parts, and a scene in which a very Western-style East German lawyer, Vogel (Sebastian Koch), dangerously roars his Volvo sports car down a snowy street with Donovan as his seriously discomfited passenger.

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Amusingly, Donovan, who is lodged in supremely filthy and freezing conditions during his visit, is made to be suffering from a bad cold the entire time he's in Berlin, all the more reason for him to push things along to a quick resolution so he can return home. Making a trade with the East is very complicated due to Donovan's insistence that both Powers and the Pryor be returned in exchange for Abel, a deal made difficult because the Russians have the pilot and the East Germans (who are seen to be at considerable odds with the Soviets on many matters) possess the student. But the American's shrewd sense of things brings the episode to a dramatic head with a negotiated pre-dawn prisoner swap on the Glienicke Bridge, thereafter popularly referred to by name that provides the film's title.

Spielberg and his production team bring all of this off with assured finesse and great physical pleasure, with rich contributions by production designer Adam Stockhausen, costume designer Kasia Walicka Maimone and cinematographer Janusz Kaminsky, even if the latter's undue predilection for flooding scenes with window light goes unabated here.

Hanks makes Donovan into another of the actor's Everyman characters, but one with very particular American “greatest generation” characteristics, such as unselfishness, modesty and fundamental adherence to core principles he's been raised to value and live by. The actor undercuts any potential sanctimoniousness with a dry humor and reserve of intelligence that makes him very good company indeed.

Rylance, one of the greatest of contemporary stage actors, has to date had only an intermittent screen career, but Bridge of Spies suggests that could be about to change. He brings fascination and very, very subtle comic touches to a man who has made every effort to appear as bland, even invisible, as possible. The entire cast is engaging down the line.


Screen Daily
by Graham Fuller

Dir. Steven Spielberg. US 2015. 135 mins.

Though Steven Spielberg’s Cold War drama Bridge of Spies proves an over-determined celebration of American-style integrity, fair-mindedness, and tenacity, its star Tom Hanks makes the most of a decidedly old-fashioned hero role. Re-invoking his 1990s reputation as the Baby Boomers’ James Stewart, Hanks gives good value as the increasingly furrow-browed Brooklyn insurance claims lawyer James B. Donovan. Formerly an OSS counsel and assistant prosecutor at Nuremberg, Donovan is pressed into negotiating the first East-West spy exchange in the newly divided Berlin of 1962 and risks some unauthorised political brinkmanship to achieve his ends.

Originated by British writer Matt Charman, whose script was refined by Joel and Ethan Coen, Bridge of Spies has an unconventional structure for a big Hollywood film. It initially focuses on the 1957 arrest in Brooklyn Heights of the Tyneside-raised Soviet Spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) and his unsuccessful courtroom defence by Donovan who, despite a rekindling of the Reds-in-our-midst paranoia incited by the Rosenbergs’ trial, prevails on the unsympathetic judge (Dakin Matthews) to save Abel from the electric chair.

Spielberg shifts gear emphatically when the film introduces the CIA’s training of U-2 spy plane pilot Gary Francis Powers (Austin Stowell), and his capture and sentencing by the Soviets. Another storyline opens when the Stasi arrest Yale student Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers) on suspicion of spying in Potsdam. These disparate strands are cleverly woven together when Donovan – hastily dispatched to Berlin by CIA director Allen Dulles (Peter McRobbie) to swap Abel for Powers before he’s forced to divulge US military secrets to the KGB – takes it upon himself to demand that Pryor’s release be part of the deal. His CIA handler (Scott Shepherd) fumes in vain.

Bridge of Spies, which premiered at the New York Film Festival, is as visually fluid and technically assured as all of Spielberg’s films. His regular cinematographer Janusz Kamiński has helped create some classic Spielbergian moments: the unspoken friendship between Donovan and Abel, which is the core of the film, deepens as white light blazes through a gap beneath a window blind; an expansive master shot of Donovan crossing into East Berlin on the S-Bahn re-purposes the experiencing of awe familiar from Spielberg’s sci-fi films. Spielberg relishes, too, Donovan’s shrewd lawyering, which links him to the more famous attorneys played by Anthony Hopkins and Daniel Day-Lewis in Amistad and Lincoln respectively.

Yet, unusually for a Spielberg movie, Bridge of Spies is tonally uncertain, to the extent that its box-office may suffer. Audiences expecting a Cold War thriller will rue the absence of John le Carré-like suspense – or a climax as nerve-wracking as the KGB spymaster Karla’s long walk, at the end of the 1982 BBC miniseries Smiley’s People, across the Glienicke Bridge, where Spielberg’s film also culminates.

It was likely the Coens, seeking a flavour of Billy Wilder’s frantic Cold War comedy One, Two, Three, who intensified the absurdist comedy of Donovan’s bizarre encounters with the incongruously flashy lawyer (Sebastian Koch), representing East German interests, and the Peter Lorre-like KGB man (Mikhail Goreyev), who poses as the lawyer representing the gushing woman and kids who claim to be Abel’s family. Donovan’s head cold, meanwhile, may have been inherited from Jack Lemmon’s morally compromised corporate climber in Wilder’s The Apartment. Spielberg’s dialogue scenes lack the pace and venom of Wilder’s, though, and it’s unsurprising that he’s more comfortable showing how the evolving respect shared by the weary but driven Donovan and the lugubrious if stoical Abel easily overcomes their ideological differences.

Amy Ryan has a thankless role as Donovan’s wife in scenes that demonstrate how his support of Abel – and against nationalist sentiments – costs her and their children peace of mind. The domestic scenes are the least developed.


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