So, Mr Spielberg is back, and this time he doesn’t want to talk about the Holocaust! With a script by Matt Charman and made sweeter by none the less than the Coen Brothers (who clearly have too much creativity these days and are overflowing everywhere), Bridge of Spies – based on a true story, of course – is your classic, stylish Cold War drama, more 12 Angry Men than 007 but hey, that actually turns out not to be a bad thing.
Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) plays the role of the seemingly harmless, artistic old man, but the CIA arrests him on suspicion of soviet espionage. And, since everything in America needs to have at least the appearance of legality, insurance lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks) is appointed to, well, appear to defend him. Only Donovan ends up admiring Abel, who sticks strongly to his principles. Donovan decides to actually stand by Abel and stop him from frying on the electric chair. And just in good time, as the soviets caught an American soldier with valuable technical information, and Abel might be the perfect trade material…
Though Tom “Gregory Peck” Hanks is his usual great self, the real star of Bridge of Spies is, without a doubt, Rylance, who’s nominated for a Golden Globe as the stoic, slightly sarcastic (or very pragmatic) soviet spy. His candor and matter of factness go perfectly against Donovan’s American Hero incarnation, and balance it out. In fact, the true strength of the film is to present each faction – East and West – as valuable and corrupt as the other, only, of course, the Real American, aka Donovan, is a humble-behind-the-scenes-saint, the “standing man” that personifies true justice in a time when governments fought dirty under the table for ideological supremacy. In the end, we are led to believe it’s because of men like Donovan, though he could hardly be considered a cooperative ally of the American government, that the West won.
The script gains immensely from the Coen typing fingers, with pure moments of dark humour, mostly coming from Abel’s unimpressed mouth. The score, one of Spielberg’s fews not penned by John Williams, is proper and understated, and does not embarrass Thomas Newmann. Our only pet peeve will be, strangely enough, the cinematography by Janusz Kaminski, who has brought the same bag of tricks he explored in Lincoln, abusing the harsh light through window gimmick and going full Caravaggio at points, hoping to get noticed (yet again), instead of serving the story.
Still, if only for the amazing scenes of Donovan in East Berlin, Bridge of Spies is a solid, funny film, well acted and directed, missing only the wow factor to make it an absolute classic. It’s comfy like a warm goulash on a cold cold evening, and the American flag waving is incredibly turned down for a Spielberg film. Go see it in the big screen and demand more Rylance on all the films.
Bridge of Spies is on UK cinemas from 27th November 2015