Review: Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies is “classy and classical”
Bridge of Spies benefits from a combination of Steven Spielberg’s masterful direction and a script worked on by the legendary Coen Brothers to produce a Cold War spy thriller par excellence. Mark Rylance’s performance as the enigmatic reserved Russian spy Rudolf Abel is carefully understated and suitably subtle. While Tom Hanks as James B. Donovan is acting at the top of his game. He plays Abel’s defence lawyer despite the fact that there is clearly no reasonable doubt that the verdict will be guilty.
The narrative is fast-paced, though not over-hasty, and questions such notions as honesty over duty and the individual versus the state. As well as examining xenophobic jingoism in contrast to Constitutional democracy. The story starts with the arrest of Abel, filmed with more than a sideways nod to film noir. When it is decided that Donovan should defend him the Brooklyn insurance lawyer has no option but to accept the case. He is under no illusion realising that it will make him the second most-hated man in the US, Abel being the most.
But the CIA do not realise the sheer strength and tenacity of Donovan’s nature when they aim to use him in a spy swap. This is due to a secret spying mission gone awry leaving pilot Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) in Russian hands. So now there is also a subplot with a Yale student arrested in East Berlin, simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. So for Donovan it has to a 2-for-1 exchange. The scenes in Berlin are sequences of real nerve-racking, nail-biting stuff with a sense that it could all fall apart at any time.
This is a classy and classical film that captures up the paranoiac fear and terrible tensions of the Cold War. Set at a time when the shadow of a nuclear holocaust hung over all of society, even young children (the young ensemble performance is particularly of note). Technically brilliant and you will be second-guessing the plot right up to the climactic scene on Glienicke Bridge in Berlin.
Showing 27- 30 December 2015, Hyde Park Picture House, Leeds.