Review: Bridge of Spies

In his 29th film, Steven Spielberg is still a master at capturing emotion the way most directors can’t. From the emotional storytelling in Schindler’s List to  making sharks the scariest animals on the planet in Jaws, there are few directors who can make you feel the way Spielberg does.

His latest film, Bridge of Spies, is based on the 1960 U-2 incident about a Brooklyn insurance attorney James Donovan (Tom Hanks) who is recruited to defend an alleged Russian spy named Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) during the Cold War. After Donovan’s heartfelt defense of Abel, he’s thrust into the middle of a spy vs. spy scenario when he’s asked to facilitate a trade between his client and a U.S pilot who was captured by the Soviets after his plane was shot down over the Soviet Union. Accompanied by a few C.I.A agents, Donovan travels to a hostile East Berlin to facilitate the trade.

Like Spielberg, Tom Hanks is a master of his craft as well. One of Hanks’ best skills is his ability to get lost in a character and bring you along with him. When Hanks locks in, he owns a movie and it’s impossible to take your eyes off him. Playing Donovan isn’t Hank’s best performance, but he makes Donovan a likable lawyer with blue collar values and his performance is strong from start to finish

Alongside Hanks, Mark Rylance is incredible. He doesn’t say much outside of “Would it help?” Rylance plays Abel as a soldier, and not the stereotypical Russian soldiers form films of the 1980’s, but as a man sent to do a job. Rylance hands in one of the best supporting roles in recent years and he’s got two…….maybe three pages of dialogue. What he does is with his minimal role should be studied in acting schools – there no zero wasted words or movements.

Bridge of Spies doesn’t reinvent spy thrillers. It’s as procedural as procedural movies go. Spielberg and the Coen brothers ability connect good storytelling with outstanding directing is what makes Bridge of Spies standout. The film doesn’t have the charisma or action of this summer’s other Cold War spy thriller, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.  What it does have is heart, and a lot of it. At it’s core, it’s a story about people and the idea that everyone matters, no matter how innocent or evil they are.

Donovan is someone who stands for an America that we all hope for but rarely see. He’s a throwback to a time when people knew what made America great wasn’t excess or reality television. Freedom, compassion and the right to a fair trial were once the cornerstones of the country. Donovan stood for all those things, despite having an opportunity to turn his back every step of the way.

Spies could’ve spent more on the spy missions, the FBI investigation, or what the spies were working on. There’s isn’t even a lot of courtroom drama either. Instead, the film focuses on the people and emphasizes why they’re what’s important. That may sound like a snoozefest, but the characters are so good, it makes for an entertaining film and some high drama. It’s really a testament to how sharp the writing is.

Spielberg’s unique ability to capture emotion comes during the final climatic scene.  Spielberg is able to grasp every ounce of emotion and create tension even when audiences know the outcome. That’s why he’s one of the best to ever do it.

Bridge of Spies is one of Spielberg’s best and of the most entertaining films of 2015. It’s a great alternative to actions film cluttered with CGI. Bridge of Spies embraces its strong cast and lets them carry the film. People forgot why they fell in love with Spielberg’s films in the first place and Bridge of Spies is a reminder why.

Grade: B+