A masterful production of Cold War tensions with humour and heart.
|It’s hard to imagine a more perfect Hollywood royalty production of a Coen brothers screenplay, directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Tom Hanks, and Bridge of Spies delivers on that perfection. It is dramatic, interesting, beautiful, funny, intense and entertaining from scene-to-scene. It opens with the heart of the Cold War, a foreign spy, on American soil, engaging in secretive behaviour, and then he’s arrested. It’s a mysterious opening, and the film seamlessly evolves from mystery to court room drama to thriller.
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Screenplay by: Matt Charman, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
Starring: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance
The seamless merging of genres and ability to keep the audience engaged in so many different forms from comedy to suspense is owed to Tom Hanks and the Coen brothers’ writing. After the spy, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), is arrested, American lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks) is called on to defend him. He’s hesitant because that’s not the type of lawyer he is, but when he realizes what he’s up against – an entire country believing in the paranoia of the time coming true, a real Russian spy, stealing American secrets to then destroy their way of life. Never mind that he’s not Russian and the evidence isn’t very clear. Everybody believes he’s guilty, therefore he is. Donovan speaks to the idealist in all of us. He believes in the American criminal code, the one that says innocent until proven guilty and the right to a lawyer.
Donovan’s an amazing character, one that fits more at home in a Hollywood movie than the history books, and perhaps that’s why I didn’t know of his story until now. He’s smart and stable, resourceful and trust-worthy. This movie isn’t about him defending a guilty Russian spy, but about balancing the country’s wants and needs. He takes us from a court room to East Germany and West Germany and to the title’s historic bridge.
The history of this real-life tale is fascinating, including the building of the Berlin wall, and especially the political maneuvering once other Americans get caught up in the realities of the Cold War. The Coen brothers also managed to weave humour into all of it because first and foremost, the film is entertaining. Spielberg gets to shine in the European scenes with use of his trusted cinematographer Janusz Kaminski beautifully photographing the penultimate scene and then turning a scene with men standing on a bridge into a tense and fascinating battle of wits.
There is an on-going debate whether this is Spielberg’s most emotionally-empty film or his most personal film to date, and while I don’t dare speak for him, I will say this is his least melodramatic and least emotionally-manipulative film to date. There are only a small handful of scenes that try to tug at heart strings, but they are so efficient and effective and anchored by a humorous script and Tom Hanks’ character’s belief in the moral right, that they just help get the viewer more involved in his story.
Bridge of Spies is just expert filmmaking on display with a humourous script that weaves us through one situation to the next and presented in a way that is beautiful and entertaining. I will be disappointed in Hollywood if this doesn’t earn a number of Oscar nominations. You have four Hollywood Kings all doing what they do best.