Spielberg uses the seedy backdrop of the Cold War to craft a morally forthright drama, which could have effectively found its home on stage as much as the big screen. Attention to period detail and gorgeous cinematography from Spielberg’s perpetual collaborator Janusz Kaminski guarantees it is visually stunning and worthy as a piece of cinema. Tom Hanks plays the film’s lawyer, James Donovan with an upstanding, level headed sense of American justice, akin with To Kill A Mockingbird-era Atticus Finch. It’s surprisingly straightforward for a Cold War thriller. Based on the true story, Donovan is hired to defend alleged Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a job he takes with stern democratic and constitutional conviction despite disdain from his wife (played by the ever delightful Amy Ryan) and the public more generally.
Amidst the quagmire of Cold War deception, the straightforward morals of Bridge of Spies are a blessed relief. The film attempts to be balanced between both sides but not without moments to question, for example we see the Soviets using sleep deprivation and bright lights against captured American pilot Gary Powers, whilst America gets a clear ride on that front. The ending also has a couple moments of Spielberg sugar sprinkled a little too heavily on what is otherwise a remarkably unsentimental and clear headed drama. The Coen brothers were brought in to revise the script and it shows, whilst by no means feeling like a stylised “Coen brothers film” its script nevertheless has a sharp edge. The deliberations and negotiations pose particularly engaging dilemmas, as Donovan is recruited as a make-shift diplomat.
Bridge of Spies may not be amongst the elite of Spielberg’s great canon, but it is certainly another strong instalment, with Hanks bringing to life an American hero with inspiring and enduring values.
Review by David Rank
Bridge of Spies is out now in the UK and US. Rating 12A (UK). Running time 141 mins