BRIDGE OF SPIES
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan
Caught somewhere between a summer thriller and a prestige drama, Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies is the perfect mash of old-fashioned Hollywood and modern day intensity. Boosted by a delectable and charming performance by its star, Tom Hanks, Bridge of Spies has the type of audience appeal and topnotch production value to become a beloved classic and awards darling.
Set in the midst of the Cold War, Spielberg's semi-war drama follows James B. Donovan (Hanks), an American lawyer recruited by the CIA to play the talking head in a mission to trade one prisoner-of-war for another. After having defended Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), Donovan is tasked with using Abel as a pawn in trading for an American fighter pilot currently being held by the Soviets. This involves a trip beyond the in-construction Berlin wall and second and third acts full of clever dialogue and ruthless edge-of-your-seat, slow-building angst.
Built on the hinges of classic Spielberg tropes, Bridge of Spies is a film that would be risky in the hands of any other auteur. Craftily using dramatic elements that will remind audiences of previous prestige pictures like Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg knows exactly when to linger and when to reveal. Trusted harrowing images pop up at the right moments to bring a bit of reality into Donovan's cat and mouse game.
While the story itself is one of life or death, the most classic element alive in the picture is Spielberg's use of comic relief to ease the tension and remind you that, at the end, our hero will save the day. And, that hero is Tom Hanks.
The Hanks we see here is the one we fell in love with in the 80s and 90s. He's familiar and emotionally sturdy, even when he's on the verge of anger. In Bridge of Spies, Hanks seems to be channeling a sense of James Stewart as he demands every moment of the screen with a humbleness that makes him endearing and comfortable.
Add to this a remarkable script by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen and you're left with an affecting wartime thriller disguised as a patriotic and encouraging piece of cinema.
Some may remark that the overly used attribute of heroism comes across as hokey and non-realistic, but in reality it makes for a close-to perfect sense of realization and palatable drama. What works is the believability in the type of film being created. It's as if Spielberg directed a film set in the Cold War era as if it were a film being made in the Cold War era. This is most apparent in the supporting roles. Rylance is a knockout as the friendly Russian spy. Amy Ryan plays the wife role with such revere that it's a shame she isn't given more to do.
Based on a true story, there's no forgetting how the movie is bound to end. But, Spielberg knows exactly how to draw you in and make you forget you ever know where things are going to go.
It'll be a long ride to the Oscars, but Bridge of Spies has every element needed. Plus, it's good, smart, entertaining, and completely worthy of any praise it gets.
Runtime: 141 minutes