Bridge of Spies, 2015.
Directed by Steven Spielberg.
Starring Tom Hanks, Amy Ryan, Mark Rylance, and Alan Alda.
An American lawyer is recruited by the CIA during the Cold War to help rescue a pilot detained in the Soviet Union.
Bridge of Spies asks us one simple yet important question: does everyone, including potential threats to the United States of America, deserve fair and just treatment when accused of very serious crimes. The setting may be the Cold War (a time of heightened tension between Americans and Soviets where information was paramount to maintaining safety) with the defendants spies, but it’s very clear that renowned and critically acclaimed director Steven Spielberg is using this little-known bit of history to speak to US citizens on a grander scale.
Spielberg assigns frequent collaborator Tom Hanks to portray the role of James Donovan, an idealistic insurance lawyer (now there’s something you don’t see everyday) to defend a British accented Soviet spy in a court of law, with the catch being that the trial is rigged and only meant to make America come out of the sticky situation looking respectable. Naturally, James decides that making a mockery of the judicial system doesn’t make the US any better than its enemies, deciding to legitimately fight for the rights of his client in spite of essentially becoming the most hated man in the country, and even looked down upon by his wife and children.
Without diving into too much of the plot, what’s surprising and welcome is that the first half of Bridge of Spies explores the morals of James, painting him as a Constitutional man bull-headed to act out on what is right. We see the effects this has on his family (some people deem him a traitor to the country for defending an enemy, deciding to violently throw objects through the glass windows of his family home at night), but it’s never overbearing. James is up against a wall facing the wrath of everyone from his family to his superiors, but is easy to root for, and much credit has to go to Tom Hanks for that thanks to his soft-spoken voice and Honest Abe family man qualities.
This is all before Bridge of Spies enters full-blown political thriller territory in a daring clandestine operation to exchange the Soviet spy for a US pilot of equally important ranking, which actually gets even more complicated than a simple trade. It is here however that the film falls back into familiar docudrama Oscar-bait territory, and quite honestly takes a bit too long to reach its eventual endgame. Bridge of Spies borders on 140 minutes, and every second of it is felt once the narrative shifts sub-genres.
It could easily be argued that the one saving grace of the entire second half of Bridge of Spies is the dry humor inserted into a rewrite of Matt Charman’s script by black humor specialists Joel and Ethan Coen. For example, Mark Rylance is given a hilarious reoccurring one-liner poking fun at his extremely calm sense of composure during dangerous times. There’s also a highly amusing scene in a Berlin restaurant that is ripe with allegories for the narrative.
Steven Spielberg also deserves a tip of the hat at, as there are quite a few scenes that parallel each other. Most notably are a pair of train rides, one in America and one in Berlin, with one eliciting pure horror. It’s the appropriate kind of thematic material that lends Bridge of Spies to a rewatch for further appreciation of the artistic integrity on display. Relevant political subtext is undoubtedly the most interesting aspect the film had going for it next to the unexpected deadpan comedy.
With all that said, some of the movie simply drags and feels like a history lesson. The stereotypical feel-good soundtrack by Thomas Newman doesn’t really help, making the movie feel even more Oscar-baity then it already is. With the exception of a stunning special effects scene of a jet pilot parachuting to safety after being blasted by missiles, the courtroom drama and mutual friendship between men who are supposed enemies (Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance) is far more interesting than the events on the titular Bridge of Spies.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder – An aficionado of film, wrestling, and gaming. Follow me on Twitter or friend me on Facebook