Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda, Amy Ryan
I had high expectations going into this film and who can blame me? Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks reunited once more is a tantalising prospect. These two have made some very successful and critically-acclaimed movies together, such as ‘Saving Private Ryan’ (1998), ‘Catch Me If You Can’ (2002), and ‘The Terminal’ (2004). Spielberg’s last major hit was Lincoln (2012), a masterful biopic of the great, late Abraham Lincoln; a film which won two Oscars. Meanwhile, Tom Hanks’ last two movies, back in 2013, ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ and ‘Captain Phillips’ were typically very popular. When these two legendary craftsmen join forces, something magical often happens. Sure enough, their latest collaboration, ‘Bridge Of Spies’, did not disappoint, as both director and actor brought their best to the screen.
‘Bridge Of Spies’ is about American James B. Donovan (Hanks), a Cold War era insurance lawyer who is recruited to defend a man accused of being (and who is most likely) a Soviet spy. The idea was to present America as the place where everyone, wrong or right, gets a “fair” trial in the eyes of the law. Later on, Donovan must orchestrate a deal with the Soviets in East Berlin for the release of captured U2 spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers. What ensues is a battle of principles, dangerously tense politics, and bureaucracy.
There are very few negatives to speak of in reference to this film. There was perhaps a scene or two that could have been removed without altering the movie’s path; scenes which I felt were placed in the movie to try and capture the paranoia and hysteria of the Cold War period, but which did not push the plot along. I also felt the editing was rather abrupt, where the changeover of scenes didn’t blend well together; they felt chopped and I prefer a movie to flow a bit better than that. Otherwise, I found this film to be an excellent example of great filmmaking.
Actually, ‘Bridge Of Spies’ was incredible. Despite my minor criticism mentioned above, I feel they did indeed convey the fear and rampant paranoia of the age. This is a skill which Spielberg has always been something of a master in, subjecting us to on-screen panic in films like ‘Jaws’ and ‘War Of The Worlds’, and his attention to detail in painting an image of the fear in this instance was masterful. Tom Hanks too, was characteristically superb as James B. Donovan, giving one of the best performances of his career. Donovan was someone you wanted to root for – the ideal American – a man who always aimed to do what is right without ever wavering from that course.
The script behind this production was also excellent, with much of the dialogue coming across as organic. There were things said and things not said, both of which were vital to the movie, which is a testament to the writers. The film provided plenty of tension too. This was a vital period in world history, and the people who made it happen on both sides should be remembered, especially Mr. Donovan, for the world would be a very different place if these men weren’t working behind the scenes.
What surprised me in this film was the level of humour; it was dry, but clearly evident from start to finish. This wasn’t intended as a comedy, but the dry wit kept the mood from getting too tense or dark. There were some very powerful scenes where you felt you were there with Donovan – you felt his pain, his frustration, his defeat, and failures. This movie allowed me to connect to the character on a higher level and only the finest movies are capable of that.
I consider this movie the best drama I’ve seen this year, and I don’t say that just because it is made by Spielberg (I saw ‘War Horse’, believe me, he does not get an automatic win). The film lived up to my expectations and ultimately sent me home very happy. Though, one should keep in mind, this is not an action-packed drama, it is basically an old-fashioned courtroom drama, set against the powerful background of the Cold War; complete with all the trimmings of fear, brutality, and morality. This isn’t Steven Spielberg’s best film, but for me, it is still one of the finest dramas to come from the last decade or more.