Review: Bridge of Spies
While director Steven Spielberg has made many classics, his filmography – specifically in the last twenty years – has largely been of the hit and miss variety. After a three-year hiatus, Spielberg returns with Bridge of Spies, a Tom Hanks starring drama that is perhaps his best film in quite some time.
Set during the cold war, Hanks stars as insurance lawyer James B. Donovan, assigned to defend suspected Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance). From the opening frames, viewers know that Abel is guilty, while surrounding characters are oblivious. Donovan believes that every man deserves a proper defense, and plans to give him just that. Meanwhile, an American pilot Francis Powers’ (Austin Stowell) spy plane crashes on Soviet soil, leaving Powers captured. With the help of the CIA, Donovan is thrust into the middle ground that is Berlin, with the mission of organizing an exchange for the two respective prisoners.
The opening ten minutes of Bridge of Spies is absolutely brilliant. We are introduced to Abel, a painter, and follow his daily life. Even before it becomes evident that Abel is up to something sinister, the sequence is so well shot, edited, and acted that viewers will already be awestruck. If anything, this sequence should alert the unknowing viewer that Rylance is a really incredible and at this time underappreciated actor.
Hanks unsurprisingly provides a heart to this political thriller. At this point in his career, Hanks does not seem to be taking many risks. His performance is great, but it is nothing that we haven’t seen from the actor before.
The screenplay co-written by Joel and Ethan Coen with Matt Charman is one of the film’s highest strongpoints. The Coens inject a certain wit to the story that gives it the feel of a 1950s Jimmy Stewart vehicle. In addition, the screenplay gives Hanks some great monologue moments that are likely to secure him yet another Oscar nomination.
For most of its running time, Bridge of Spies plays like a flawless film. Unfortunately the film is a major Hollywood picture, which means that viewers should not expect much risk taking. Had this not been a Spielberg vehicle, the film would have ended ten minutes earlier after its most spellbinding scene, but Spielberg feels the need to abolish any sense of ambiguity and wrap it up with a feel good ending.
While the finale is a major misfire, Bridge of Spies is truly a great film, and is Spielberg’s most entertaining effort in years.