Bridge Of Spies: Spielberg Branches Out Seamlessly

Tom Hanks (Castaway) joins up with Steven Spielberg (Jurassic Park), yet again, in this Cold War history drama. The year is 1957 and the world is caught up in the political standoffs of the Cold War between the Russians, the Germans and the Americans. James B Donovan (Tom Hanks) is a well-known insurance is lawyer whose talents are scouted out by the CIA. The CIA want him to defend jailed Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance). Tensions mount when Donovan is sent to East Berlin by the CIA to bargain for the release of an American pilot, Francis Gary Powers (Austein Powell). His spy aircraft was gunned down over the Soviet Union. The Americans want to exchange Abel in return for Powers. In this Cold War, the world is at breaking point. Tensions are high and everyone wants to blow the other one up. The fate of the world rests on the shoulders of Tom Hanks’ James Donovan. This is the story of a very unbiased lawyer and his utmost respect for human life, not just the American ones.

Tom Hanks under pressure in East Berlin

Tom Hanks under pressure in East Berlin

Tom Hanks, as always, is phenomenal. He’s such a great talent and plays Donovan to perfection. He’s poised and measured with such charisma as he shows in a great monologue to the Supreme Court. He is just and honorable with purity, as all lawyers ‘should’ be. Donovan has a respect for human life itself and I watched Hanks in the role with admiration and thought to myself “good for him”. He also has some witty lines as well when talking to a CIA agent about Rudolf. Donovan treats Rudolf with humanity rather than the rest of American including the CIA who treat him with inhumanity. He’s what all lawyers should be like, unbiased and incorruptible. He stand by his principals and his beliefs. He is ‘Standing Man’

“I am an Irish, and you are from Germany. What defines us both as American? It is the Constitution, that is the only rule book.”

James B. Donovan

Donovan believed that Abel was entitled to a fair trial before he was put to death for spying. Everyone wanted his head on a silver platter for doing what the CIA had sent American men to do in Russia. Now, the hypocrisy begins. The movie was penned by the Cohen Brothers (Fargo) that revealed all Cold War politics on display for all to witness in its absurdity but also riddled with political satire and blatant contradictions in politics that we still see more than fifty years later. The hypocrisies are portrayed through the CIA for the most part but political morality and human sentimentality are depicted through the righteous and amiable Tom Hanks.

Mark Rylance (Wolf Hall) plays Abel. Rylance was nominated for his portrayal of Thomas Cromwell in BBC’s Wolf Hall and I was sad he didn’t win the Emmy because he certainly deserved it. I am hoping an  Oscar nomination is sent his way for his role in this because it is certainly warranted. Everyone in America is convinced of Abel’s guilt. Everyone wants to play judge, jury and executioner despite not having all the facts and doing things outside of the law to get Abel. e.g. the CIA storming Abel’s apartment without a search warrant. When Donovan asks that question, he gets shutdown as if he has said something stupid.

Mark Rylance As Rudolf Abel

Mark Rylance As Rudolf Abel

Rylance as Abel is so laid back and chilled to the point that it’s quite comical. Everyone wants his guts on the sidewalk and he doesn’t change a shade. He’s minutes from being executed and he doesn’t flinch. The performance from Rylance is unimpeachable except for being a spy but you start to sympathize with him. He’s just a guy serving his country as many Americans serve their’s. Rylance is an epic stage veteran actor who suddenly appeared out of nowhere and I’m glad as hell he did. He’s quiet and unemotional, yet it works. He’s just quite ordinary looking. You wouldn’t really look twice if you walked past him in the street. A very forgettable face.

What makes the movie so great is its simplicity. No real SFX. A movie pushed along by great storytelling, direction and acting but also character development and quality plot twists. This is a movie for people with older film tastes. It’s not a movie for people who are used to blockbuster-esque films. There’s no gun fights or car chases. It’s a throwback to the Golden Age yet the production value for Bridge Of Spies is mesmerizing and I should expect a nomination from BAFTA and the Academy for cinematography too.

By now, Powers has been captured by the Soviets, and an American student has gotten himself captured in East Germany. Spielberg is showing us that both sides had spies and it’s reinforcing the hypocrisies of the US government. This is a first of this type of film. There are two sides to every story and they are showing both sides. Normally, they would show the American viewpoint and then that would be deemed as propaganda. e.g. Showtime’s Homeland or American Sniper.


James Donovan (Tom Hanks) at Checkpoint Charlie in East Germany

In conclusion, Tom Hanks is the star of the movie but in my opinion Rylance stole the whole movie. His scenes with Hanks were dominated by him. Rylance is a stage actor yet he has proven his quality on film with Bridge Of Spies. A truly remarkable and enigmatic performance by Rylance and another excellent performance by Hanks with great cinematography and an emotional musical score by Thomas Newman (Iron Lady), witty and cold writing from the Cohen Brothers whilst being directed by one of the most seasoned directors in Hollywood, Steven Spielberg.

Give Rylance an Oscar. I don’t know, would it help?