October 15, 2015
The names on the poster of "Bridge of Spies" alone makes this a must-watch: Steven Spielberg as director, Ethan and Joel Coen as writers and Tom Hanks in the lead role. Whatever the topic may be, this simply has to be a film of possible Oscar-merit.
The year is 1957, at the height of the Cold War, James B. Donovan is a top-notch insurance lawyer based in New York City. He was conscripted by the government to perform a thankless duty-- to defend Rudolf Abel, an elderly Russian artist accused to be a spy. Public disdain did not stop Donovan from fighting for the rights of his client. He even agreed to go on his own private capacity to negotiate a trade of prisoners in East Berlin -- Abel in exchange for two young Americans caught in the crossfire.
The whole look of this movie is very clean and well-made. The cinematography was flawless with beautiful images and angles. The production design, with the settings, props, costumes, hair and makeup, were all in perfect period details. The special effects spent on that plane stunt were spectacular to behold. All of these technical elements already have Oscar nominations written for them.
Watching Tom Hanks as James Donovan made the 2-1/2 hours running time of this film worth its while. Despite his very distinctive face, the versatile Hanks can really inhabit any character very well (with the notable exception perhaps of Robert Langdon, but that is another matter). His Donovan was a lawyer with uncommon nobility, going above and beyond the call of duty, barring any harsh criticisms, in order to fulfill the duty he felt he had for his client. With Hank's everyman charm and appeal drawing us in, we will root him on.
Mark Rylance plays opposite Hanks as the gentleman Russian prisoner Rudolf Abel. This guy is cool and calm and as innocent-looking as you'd expect a spy to look like. Also making remarkable supporting performances were Dakin Matthews (as the "practical" American Judge Byers), Mikhail Gorevoy (as the Soviet official Ivan Schischkin) and Sebastian Koch (as the East German lawyer Wolfgang Vogel).
Previous Spielberg masterpieces of a similar nature, like "Schindler's List","Saving Private Ryan" and "Munich," had us all on the edge of our seats with suspense. "Bridge," however, in spite of the precarious situations involved, did not really give you that overwhelming sense of danger or urgency. Everything in the storytelling felt neat and calculated to build up to an ending we can all foresee (even if we did not know a thing about the life of James Donovan). But that is not exactly a bad thing for a biopic.
Overall, it was a very engaging dramatic film, an outstanding biopic of a remarkable man of extraordinary principles. Just don't expect an edge-of-seat thriller too much or you may be disappointed. 8/10.