Movie Review: Bridge of Spies
If the many lawyer jokes show how Americans despise lawyers, just think how much they’d loathe a lawyer who successfully defends a man accused of spying on Uncle Sam for the Soviets during the peak of the Cold War.
But you can keep the pitchforks and torches for your Halloween party. With Tom Hanks playing said attorney in Bridge of Spies, no one in the audience will be out for his blood, even when you throw in the movie’s lengthy 141-minute run time and the heavy historical (everyone’s favorite humanities subject) matters.
Chances are, you’ll never want to look away from the screen for fear of missing anything. What else would you expect in a movie with Tom Hanks as leading man, Steven Spielberg at the helm, using a screenplay co-written by the Coen Brothers? After all, these 4 men only happen to have 9 Oscars wins between them.
And you can consider the reputation of the the Spielberg-Hanks collaboration, which has yielded such gems as: Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me if You Can and The Terminal.
Hanks is James B. Donovan, a Brooklyn insurance lawyer pulled into his country’s spat with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) when he’s assigned to defend Rudolf Ivanovich Abel (Mark Rylance) and prove the fairness of the American judicial system. Abel, arrested in New York, is accused of spying for the Soviets, but Donovan saves his client from the death sentence, landing him 45 years of incarceration instead
The bigger story binding these 2 men together is when Donovan is to negotiate an exchange with the USSR for Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell), a captured American pilot, before he spills American secrets to the Soviets.
Reprising his role as the genial ordinary man who shows indomitable spirit in the face of adversity (just like in Captain Phillips), Hanks demonstrates once again why he’s earned 2 Oscars and 4 Golden Globes for Best Actor. Thanks to his acting chops, Donovan isn’t just a one-dimensional character – he’s not just the pinnacle of stalwart duty.
Hanks easily portrays his many facets: a father’s grief at the unforeseen threat he’s brought to his family, such as when his family home was shot at by unseen assailants; a mere mortal’s bleak exasperation at 2 superpowers’ shows of power and the grit of a man who won’t let another be treated unjustly. With watery eyes, snarky smirks and aimless pacing, Hanks becomes the protagonist of the tale.
Bridge of Spies is actually a pretty straightforward tale, but with Spielberg’s undisputed skill at storytelling, the potency of the emotional, political and philosophical implications of each action is brought to the fore. Hollywood seems to forget that a director’s job is to help tell a story; not detract from it with flashy cuts and special effects. Spielberg reminds us with this movie what we’ve so sorely missed amid high-budget CGI fests. Its nothing like The Man From U.N.C.L.E (another Cold War film) – no flashy action sequences or over-the top-effects, only raw emotions.
It doesn’t hurt to be relevant to current issues and Bridge of Spies couldn’t have come at a better time. We’re now faced with the same question Donovan himself asks in the film: why does America’s Constitution (and, by extension, laws in general and perhaps, even, the decency of man) not apply to Rudolph Ivanovich Abel, simply because he represents an implacable foe?
It’s a concern many have raised about the war against terrorism. With Russia moving to aid in the Syrian conflict and ISIS still present, the world will again be forced to ponder such questions of morality… But perhaps too much deliberation will create more problems than it can prevent. We may want to take a line from the pragmatism of Abel about over-thinking: “Would it help?”
Bridge of Spies is a chilling emotional thriller about men caught in the crossfire of 2 superpowers for just doing their duty. A simple film, it is nonetheless ladened with many philosophical considerations and ramifications awaiting those who with keen eyes and minds. UrbanWire is glad it comes out in the same month as The Martian. Between the 2 films, we have plenty to enjoy before the December movie bonanza.
Release Date: Oct 15
Runtime: 141 minutes
Censorship Rating: PG
Genre: Thriller, Historical, Drama
Director: Steven Spielberg
Main Actors: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda
Photos courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox