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| 22 October 2015 | Reply

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar
8 ½ /10

Bridge Of Spies movie poster

Spielberg at his best manages to channel the need for entertainment with genuine good storytelling, and he strikes an especially solid balance on this tale of espionage and political shenanigans at the height of the Cold War.

Celebrated insurance lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks) is tapped by the FBI and his law firm boss Thomas Watters Jr (Alan Alda) to defend Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), even though in those days of rampant paranoia about the Red Threat from Russia, it makes him loathed across America. Everyone thinks Donovan will just go through the motions so the system can pretend it did the right thing by Abel – but when he ignores the stigma of association coming to bear upon him and his family and takes to the defence like a dog to a bone, even his family start questioning why he’s doing this.

Since this is based on a true story, I doubt a spoiler alert is necessary at this point, but be warned. His defence succeeds in saving Abel’s life – mostly based on the theory that having a spy to trade in case the U.S. lost one of their own might be handy in the future.

Fast forward a short while, and Lieutenant Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) ditches his spy plane inside Soviet airspace after it is crippled by a Russian missile. At a similar time, the Berlin Wall goes up, and American economics student Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers) is imprisoned for spurious espionage crimes.

Donovan is enlisted to travel to Berlin and negotiate the exchange of Powers for Abel, but again goes beyond his remit and, to the chagrin of his FBI handlers, insists that Abel will only be surrendered for both Powers and Pryor.

Bridge Of Spies – named after the Glienicke Bridge, where such exchange were made – is almost two movies in one: a courtroom drama, and a tense espionage thriller, but there is precious little action throughout the 141 minutes. Spielberg nails the atmosphere though, and has made a taut film that reminds us of the Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Smiley’s People mini-series’ starring Alec Guiness from 1979 and 1982, with its meticulous, in depth and talky nature playing to Spielberg’s influences.

There are some beautifully shot scenes: a horde of photographer’s flash bulbs being crushed underfoot after Abel is sentenced; the oppression of East Berlin; and the stunning crash scene of Powers’ plane are all standouts, but it’s the depiction of just how dirty all the involved governments were that makes the film so bold. There’s no ‘bad guy’ here – the Russians, the Americans and the Germans all care next-to-nothing about the lives they are playing with like a human chess set, they only want to minimise the imaginary embarrassment to their governments.

All the players of this game are human, caught up in a war none of them really understand, which has developed a life of its own – but they go along with it anyway. In telling the story so masterfully Spielberg may have bucked the trends in our superhero-obsessed world, but this is the finest kind of old-fashioned storytelling.

Category: Movie & Theatre Reviews

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