Note: I had the opportunity to see an advanced screening of “Bridge of Spies.”
Brains, thrills and gusto are three words that I would use to describe “Bridge of Spies.” Brains because this is one sharp written screenplay from Matt Charman (“Suite Française”) and Joel and Ethan Coen (“Fargo” “No Country For Old Men”). Thrills because director Steven Spielberg (“Schindler’s List” “Saving Private Ryan”) knows how to deliver fantastic Cold War drama/thriller, and gusto because Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance deliver some of the best performances of the year.
James Donovan (Hanks) is an insurance lawyer who is asked to take on a very high-profile criminal case by his boss, Thomas Watters (played by Alan Alda). The case: defend a Soviet Spy, Rudolf Abel (Rylance), for spying on the US Government during the Cold War. Donovan agrees to the case, much to the dislike from his family, including his wife Mary (played by Amy Ryan). He starts to meet with Abel and the two of them begin an unlikely friendship. The US sees a traitor and terrible person, while Donovan sees a man with soul sent to do a job.
Abel’s case is pretty quick, as the jury finds him guilty on all charges. Then things really get heated at the sentencing hearing when the judge decides to keep Abel in prison versus giving him the death penalty. James and his family are in danger during parts of the film, including a shooting at his home, and he can see how much his work is hurting his family.
To try and make things right with his family and his country, James is hired by the CIA to negotiate a swap between Abel and a US pilot, Francis Gary Powers (played by Austin Stowell), who was shot down over Soviet Union after he was ordered by the US to spy on the Soviet Union. James agrees to the case, but he has some plans in store that involves not only getting back Powers, but a US student, Frederic Pryer (played by Will Rogers), who was detained in Germany during the building of the Berlin Wall. It all becomes a game of negotiation and smarts, as Donovan meets secretly with officials in Germany, making it a thrilling experience.
Tom Hanks gives one of the best performances of his career, and he better be nominated for an Oscar (after being left out for his performance in “Captain Phillips”). He carries the film so well, keeping the audience intrigued with his sharp delivery. He is joined by Mark Rylance as Rudolf Abel, in an Oscar worthy supporting role. Rylance is wholesome, at time humorous and puts on a bold face, making the chemistry between him Hanks very good. The rest of the cast is strong, as well, especially the small performance from Amy Ryan.
Steven Spielberg’s direction is fantastic, and it benefits from long-time friend and colleague Janusz Kaminski (Oscar winner of “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan”). You can tell Spielberg has an eye for this sort of a film, making it a beautiful experience. And like I said before, the screenplay from Matt Charman and Joel and Ethan Coen is sharp, humorous, thrilling and engrossing. It better be nominated for an Oscar.
Finally, Spielberg used Thomas Newman for the score, and it’s a terrific score that should also be nominated. Newman has a gorgeous style, that also stood out in “Saving Mr. Banks.”
“Bridge of Spies” is one of the best films of the year, thanks to the master himself, Steven Spielberg. From the music, the acting, the screenplay and cinematography, this is a Cold War film that you will not want to miss. Rated PG-13.