By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Steven Spielberg’s latest film may not be a grand slam, but it is definitely a home run. Based on the true events involving Soviet spy Rudolf Abel, American spy Francis Gary Powers and the lawyer James B. Donovan who negotiated for their trade, Bridge of Spies is a well written and directed espionage thriller that recreates these intense moments during the Cold War. The screenplay by Matt Charman, Ethan and Joel Coen sets a lovely foundation to create a gripping film about a fascinating chain of events in world history.
Tom Hanks stars as Donovan, a New York insurance attorney who gets forced by his firm and the U.S. government to defend captured Russian spy Colonel Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance). The government and courts already plan to convict Abel, but demand that all involved must go through the motions of due process to make it happen. Donovan does his best, but ultimately fails to get his client treated fairly and Abel soon becomes a prisoner of the United States. In the U.S.S.R., American spy pilot Francis Gary Powers while piloting a U-2 plane gets shot down and taken prisoner as well. Both sides begin negotiating an exchange for the prisoners out of fear that each prisoner might divulge information of a sensitive nature. Once again James B. Donovan gets tasked with handling the final negotiations for the spy exchange.
The screenplay by Charman and the Coen brothers works tremendously on all levels. The development of all the characters and the real drama and intrigue surrounding these real events is intelligently written with political and social commentary on all parties involved. There is no U.S. and them in this movie, both parties are subject to critique and the fear-mongering climate of the era is brilliantly recreated. Not only does Spielberg’s film work as an effective thriller and drama, but there are also some superbly written comic moments which definitely tickled me pink. Though I’m sure Charman exercised some artistry and skill with the screenplay, I cannot imagine this movie would be quite as funny without the work of the Coens. Without the direction of Spielberg, the cinematography by Janusz Kaminsky and the score by Thomas Newman, this movie would not present this story with such classic cinematic flair.
As usual Spielberg and his casting department have assembled an awesome cast for the film. It should go without saying that Hanks performs well in the lead role. Mark Rylance delivers a deliberately understated, though wonderfully nuanced, performance as Colonel Abel. Bridge of Spies also features solid work by Amy Ryan, Austin Stowell, Scott Shepherd, Sebastian Koch, and several others.
I don’t honestly see this film nominated for Best Picture awards this year, but then again, that will all depend on all the other award seeking films that get released during this fall and winter. I can, though, see the screenplay receiving multiple nominations. I feel that is the main strength of this movie. I suppose it doesn’t hurt that a master filmmaker like Steven Spielberg was at the helm.