“Bridge of Spies”—Channeling the Cold War
The second collaboration between Steven Spielberg and Joel and Ethan Coen, who co-wrote the script with Matt Charman, “Bridge of Spies” lands a place in my “Top 10 Films of 2015” list.
In this historical drama, “Bridge of Spies” takes place during the heat of the Cold War—1957–Tom Hanks stars as the American attorney, James Donovan, who is asked to defend Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (the formidable Mark Rylance) and later to negotiate the exchange of the downed US pilot Gary Powers for Abel.
The story is ripped from the headlines of fifty-nine years ago, Donovan, despite massive public disapproval, CIA obfuscation, and threats against his family, refuses to ignore Abel’s constitutional rights for a fair trial. Donovan’s wife, Mary (Amy Ryan) meets eyes with her embattled husband and, in that look, Donovan understands the high stakes in taking the moral position to which he tenaciously holds on. It’s startling when it happens. Fight for justice or for the safety of one’s own family?
When we are introduced to Abel, he is a soft-spoken man who spends the majority of his days painting. Occasionally he will journey to the local park, paints in hand, to take in the beauty of the day. His gentle manners and quiet demeanor lull the audience into caring about him. Abel is also occasionally followed by various members of the United States government. When the U2 spy plane piloted by Francis Gary Powers is shot down over Russia and Powers is declared a spy, Donovan is designated to lead secretly the negotiation for the prisoner exchange.
Hanks gives another star-turn performance as Donovan. Solid, representing American core values, he would dominate the film if not for Mark Rylance who mesmerizes. He is amazing here. Rylance manages to command the viewer’s attention with facial and body gestures alone and very few lines of dialogue,. The supporting cast is equally strong, from Alan Alda as Donovan’s boss to Amy Ryan as Donovan’s wife.
The film’s cinematography is also visually brilliant. East Berlin in 1957-1960 is recreated down to the razor wire on the wall. The mood of the screenplay by Charman and the Coens is perfectly captured.
Hank’s performance as Donovan is unflappable, displaying a tenacious determination beneath an affable charm and a stoic belief that everything can be resolved without bloodshed or ill feeling. He smiles and flatters, banters and cajoles while never taking his eyes off the prize. Mark Rylance provides a perfect counterweight to Hanks. His Rudolf Abel is silent and withdrawn. HIs words seem rationed and measured, following one-by-one from his lips: “Are you never afraid?” demands Donovan. “Would it help?” Abel replies.
A mixture of thriller, courtroom drama and history lesson, “Bridge Of Spies” makes for a riveting and unforgettable movie.