Film review: Bridge of Spies
Steven Spielberg has created some of the most legendary movies in recent cinematic history, directing science fiction hits such as Jurassic Park and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, as well as action/adventure movies such as the Indiana Jones series. But Spielberg also excels at crafting compelling historical dramas as shown in Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, Lincoln and now in his latest film, Bridge of Spies.
The movie is set in the Cold War era, when tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union were at an all-time high. The first part of the film tells the story of James Donovan (played by Tom Hanks), a lawyer from Brooklyn who must defend accused Soviet spy Rudolph Abel (played by Mark Rylance) in court. Through his involvement with Abel, Donovan finds himself in the middle of an international spy scandal. The latter half of the film depicts Donovan’s attempts to negotiate an exchange of prisoners between America and the Soviet Union while also trying to remain loyal to his values and his desire to maintain his integrity as a lawyer.
Spielberg explained that as he has gotten older, he has moved away from the more fantastical plotlines and gravitated toward stories based on real events.
“Before, I was doing big concept films, [like Jurassic Park and Jaws],” Spielberg said, in a university media conference call. “While I have always chosen character-based films, lately I [am more inclined] to choose smaller concepts with bigger characters.”
While Bridge of Spies is a far cry from the outrageous plot lines of some of Spielberg’s aforementioned films, it still maintains the sense of wonder and the emotional heart that moviegoers have come to expect from Spielberg. The movie clocks in at two hours and 20 minutes, but it keeps your attention throughout with its masterful depiction of a diplomatic chess game.
Spielberg explained that those working on the film tried to keep the historical integrity of the film by engaging in intensive research to accurately recreate Cold War scenery.
“We used old German magazines and National Geographic with landscape pictures of what the area looked like at that time,” Spielberg said.
The movie’s faithful and historically accurate depiction of the Cold War era immerses the audience in the paranoia and panic that characterized the time period. The film constantly makes you question what it means to be an American and consider the real meaning of the word ‘traitor’. Is Donovan a traitor because he refuses to do what his country asks of him, or is he a hero because he refuses to let his values be swayed by Cold War politics?
Tom Hanks shines as James Donovan, bringing his trademark warmth and humor to each scene. But perhaps the biggest triumph of the film is Rylance’s understated performance, in which he shows us the compassion and quiet dignity behind the Soviet spy — turning this potentially unsympathetic character into a man that we are all rooting for by the movie’s end.
This movie definitely deserves to be seen. Although it is a historical drama, the message of the film still has great relevance. Spielberg relates the film’s depiction of corrupt and biased diplomats to what we see in the news today.
“These bad diplomatic situations are still occurring today and we need more people like James Donovan,” Spielberg said. “We need to be more patient with one another.”
Bridge of Spies was released in theaters on Oct. 16.