Bridge of Spies is Entertaining, Solid Historical Drama, Classic Spielberg
Bridge of Spies
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Matt Charman, Ethan Coen & Joel Coen
Starring: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda
Running time 141 minutes
Rated PG-13 for some violence and brief strong language
Bridge of Spies is the—inspired by true events—story of lawyer James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) and his unexpected immersion into the Cold War. When Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) was arrested in 1954 and charged with espionage for performing dead drops for the Union of Socialist Soviet Republic the US Government needed to ensure he received a fair trial, and he needed legal representation. James Donovan was nominated by the New York Bar association, and boss Thomas Watters (Alan Alda), due to his involvement with the Nuremberg trials years previous. When Donovan accepted the challenge of defending one of the most reviled men in America, he knows this will have a significant negative impact on himself, his firm, and his family. Donovan’s insistence on Able receiving a fair trial, and the best possible defense put him in a position of arguing for preserving the life of a convicted Soviet spy, should a US spy should ever be captured by the Russians, and an exchange of prisoners be required. Shortly after appealing Able’s conviction to the US Supreme Court, which was denied, the pilot of a U-2 spy plane Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) was shot down over the Soviet Union and captured. Given the tension between the two countries, the CIA enlisted the help of James Donovan to negotiate, and facilitate the prisoner exchange in West Berlin. But when Donovan arrives, the negotiations constantly on the verge of breaking down as tensions escalate, with lives on the line,
Bridge of Spies is a beautiful example of storytelling, from some masterful storytellers, for its 140 minute runtime, it does not feel it, if anything it feels too brief to contain the entire story it is telling. It was a fantastic reminder about how good Spielberg really is that he could make legal arguments and negotiations so damned interesting. A good portion of that is due to the script, the dialogue was excellent, and in parts lifted directly from the transcripts of the court proceedings. Where there was not verbatim reading, Charman and the Coen’s dialogue rings true to the characters speaking the lines. That is to say, I could not have told you if James Donovan wrote the impassioned speech he gave to the supreme court of if that was entirely Matt Charman, Ethan or Joel Coen, before I actually looked it up. It was Donovan by the way. Now Tom Hanks deserves credit for his performance here, no doubt there was pressure to get the character right, and to keep him entertaining. The sign of a good performance, like good direction, and good writing is that you cannot see the seams, or the gears working in the background. The fingerprints of the artists are visible, if you know where to look, but you really have to look.
I cannot say this s an exciting and sexy film, it is not suspenseful, and it is not jingoistic patriotic. It is a masterfully told story, a skillful historical recreation that perfectly demonstrates how effective quiet, consistent, and focused filmmaking can be.