Film review: BRIDGE OF SPIES, from ‘Built For Speed’

Steven Spielberg has a penchant for making films about quiet, steely, morally upstanding men who defy authorities to effect vital change in society. He eloquently explored this type of character in the Schindler’s List and Lincoln and he addresses a similar theme in the impressive if not utterly compelling Cold War drama Bridge Of Spies.

The film tells the surprising story of insurance lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks) who, strangely, was called upon to defend an accused Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) at the height of the Cold War in 1957. In trying to give Abel a fair trial and uphold his belief in justice, Donovan was forced to battle public outrage, physical attacks and prejudiced judges. Just to make his life more stressful he then became the middle man in a game of brinksmanship between Russia and America when the Soviets took downed American U2 spy plane pilot Gary Powers prisoner and the East Germans imprisoned American exchange student Frederic Pryor.

While ostensibly about the Cold War and the accompanying fears of nuclear holocaust and infestations of Russian spies, this, like many Spielberg films becomes a story of personal integrity and moral decency. Who better to convey American decency in the face of an oppressive regime than Tom Hanks? He conveys goodness and quiet authority so convincingly that he is able to quash any cynicism about his role as the American Everyman hero.  Through Hanks’ morally upstanding Donovan the film explores not only the murky and disturbing politics of international espionage but also vexing issues such as the integrity and impartiality of the US justice system.

Like so many Spielberg films Bridge of Spies occasionally succumbs to cheesy sentiment and contrived humour but Spielberg generally keeps his more irksome habits under control. Unfortunately, though, he does depict the Russians as stereotypical sneaky, humourless tyrants.

Aided by his long-time cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, Spielberg meticulously recreates the look of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Also, in scenes where he depicts the desperate state of East Germans suddenly confronted by the Berlin Wall, he conjures a sense of panic like the one he achieved during the early scenes of Schindler’s List.

This is a fairly predictable film: if a cinemagoer was told they were going to see a movie directed by Spielberg, set during the cold war and starring Tom Hanks as a defence lawyer they would more than likely conjure a pretty accurate picture of this film. While Spielberg’s filmmaking style is very familiar, the quality of his films has not diminished and with a fascinating story and strong central performance, Bridge of Spies is another strong addition to the Spielberg canon.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2.

Genre: Historical drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Steven Spielberg.

Release date: 22nd October 2015.

Running time: 141 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.



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