Bridge of Spies is a successful sum of its more than adequate parts; a top priduction team, star leading man and inarguably brilliant writers. All that’s left is the unwelcome task of nit-picking a film by one of the most accomplished directors of our time.
Set during the Cold War, the film tells the story of James Donovan (Hanks), an American lawyer tasked by the American government to defend Rudolph Abel (Rylance), a suspected Soviet spy discovered in Brooklyn. In the meantime, U-2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) is shot down during a reconnaissance mission over Soviet territory, imprisoned, and interrogated. The CIA recruits Donovan to rescue the downed pilot, who must travel to East Berlin to negotiate Powers’ release in a daring game of cat and mouse.
Bridge of Spies is a beautifully shot, dialogue-driven film from start to finish. Men in grey flannel suits and fedoras, drinking whisky in smoky rooms suffused by warm light. Though it may be another Cold War espionage thriller, it manages to rise above its familiar ground thanks to superb work from Spielberg, Hanks, Rylance, and a reliably droll screenplay by the Coen brothers and Matt Charman.
Hanks effortlessly portrays Donovan as a man determined to uphold the values of the Constitution for the sake of justice no matter the circumstance, while being forced to bear the brunt of public outrage; the ‘standing man’ as he is aptly described in the film. The standout however, is Mark Rylance as Abel. In one of the year’s strongest turns in a supporting role, Rylance steals every scene he’s in, his stoic calm in the face of a more than likely death sentence for espionage providing a nice counterbalance to Hanks’ anxiety during the proceedings. Indeed, Abel replies, “Would it help?” to Donovan’s repeated incredulity at the lack of worry on his defendant’s part.
Yet Bridge of Spies is by no means perfect. Its bloated running time of almost two and a half hours just manages to hold on to its audience thanks largely to the strengths of its performances. Thomas Newman’s talents also feel slightly underutilised. His familiar score that is always so noticeable is noticeable here only by its relative absence. Bridge of Spies teases, but never quite hits that indefinable mark that really grabs the viewer in. Instead, Spielberg and co play it quite safe, but the viewer cannot complain, as we're treated a compelling story that is ultimately enjoyable to watch.
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