Movie Review: “Bridge of Spies”

Max Bickley – General Assignment Reporter

For most of us, the Cold War is something only to be seen in the pages of history books. In a historical sense, if the Cold War was a rock thrown into a lake, our generation got to the shore only in time to see the last of the ripples.

However, when films like “Bridge of Spies” come out, it is easy for us to be reminded of the true fear that plagued the world at the time, but also that though there were no assaults or firefights, people did die and some people became heroes.

“Bridge of Spies” is a brand new release to theaters directed by Steven Spielberg and written, in part, by the Coen brothers. The film is based on the 1960 U-2 incident, where an American spy pilot was captured by Soviets.

Tom Hanks plays James Donovan, an insurance lawyer from New York who has become involved in the life of subterfuge and espionage. Roped into defending an accused Soviet spy, and then brought to negotiate the release of a captured American in East Berlin, the slow twisting of Donovan’s life into a subtle American hero is a captivating watch.

The production value of the movie is well earned, as is mostly found with Spielberg films, and there was close dedication to the period of the film. There was never a moment in the film where the idea of the scenes and world being in the late 1950’s seemed farfetched.

The costuming and set designs were well executed, and took every chance to use all the tropes from 1950’s American culture such as the old “duck and cover” films, teaching kids how to survive nuclear fallout. One of the prominent methodologies of the movie’s character’s style was their style of speech. Almost every American in the movie talks in the same tones as the old-school “noir” films, almost stereotypical, but it was that little extra touch which brought everything together in the film.

The music took prime advantage of the setting as well. When the scenes in America took place, the music would either be pop hits on radios or over broadcasts, or light and upbeat orchestral tones. However, when the scenes changed to East Berlin, so did the music. It altered from lighter tones to dark and somber orchestral pieces, which only added to the cold, dismal feeling of Soviet-controlled Eastern Europe.

With Tom Hanks as a lead role in a historical film, it goes to say that he does his job exceptionally well. His portrayal of James Donovan, a lawyer turned international negotiator, reaches deep into the emotional range. Hanks goes from subtle and sly negotiations, to impassioned stances on justice and patriotism, and then moments of quiet when all that he has done tires his spirit and person.

Hanks’ acting is closely followed by actor Mark Rylance, playing the accused Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel. Rylance’s simple and very placid portrayal leads to some of the best moments in the movie. Though the audience knows Rylance is a Soviet spy, his portrayal and acting makes him a sympathetic character. He is also one of the main sources of humor. In knowing that he is doomed to be condemned in trial, his character is asked why he is not worried about possibly being executed by the United States or Soviets, to which he responds, “Would it help if I was?”

Overall, the movie is slow, with the actual story of the prisoner exchange starting truly at the halfway point, and given the historical context may not be the “go to” movie for most. However, it is worth a watch, if not in theaters, then at home when it is released.

Photo Credit: Dick Thomas Johnson


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