Movie Review: Bridge of Spies

From the acclaimed director of everything from war dramas like Lincoln and Saving Private Ryan to action-adventures like E.T. and Raiders of the Lost Ark, Bridge of Spies adds on to this glorious year of spy flicks with a tense, thought-provoking drama about the cold conflicts of countries and men at polar opposites of the world. Equipped with Steven Spielberg's brilliant direction and a lead as strong-willed and methodical as Tom Hanks, this taut political thriller may run a bit long at times, but it nevertheless produces an Oscar-worthy film in its final product.


At the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the United States couldn't be more divided. With endless spies from both countries going to all costs to steal secrets and take any advantage they can get in the war, tension runs high for everyone -- both in the skies of deadly aerial warfare, and on the ground, where corrupt politics infest the streets. Among the ground-dwellers of Brooklyn, New York, insurance lawyer James Donovan (Hanks) fights for the rights of men and women whom the world deems as enemies, simply because of the nation they come from. Invoking the ideals of the U.S. Constitution to support his arguments, Donovan's radical yet intuitive methods may one day get him killed. But before that, he must defend one of his most dangerous clients: Convicted Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance). When the Russians capture one of America's top pilots while on an aerial surveying above the country, Donovan, still entangled in his affairs with Abel, must then come to the rescue of the American prisoner. Ultimately ensuing in a wild game of secrets and lies as the two nations negotiate a trade between the two men, Donovan must risk both his own safety and the loyalty of his country to defend the men the government fail to defend.


If anyone is able to bring a true story of heroism and political affairs to the big screen and turn a somewhat unexciting tale into a brilliant thriller, it has to be Steven Spielberg. The director of everything from war-time soldiers and horses, alien encounters, dinosaur discoveries, and Fedora-wearing adventurers, Spielberg is without a doubt one of the film industry's biggest names. Whether he's behind the camera or at the producer's desk, he has surely had a lasting influence on how Hollywood films are made to this day. Returning to the director's seat nearly three years after bringing President Abraham Lincoln into a witty and complex drama (no, not Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), Spielberg brings us yet another politically-fueled film set in one of the most dreary periods of war in history. Among that dreariness, however, lies a few corrupt governments, millions of men and women struggling to survive the perils of war, and one profound story of an insurance lawyer and his toughest client ever. 


Successfully intertwining the dark scenes of the Cold War with a cleverly-written, well-acted drama about the inner struggles of convicted men facing flawed due process, as well as the lawyers who stand behind them, Bridge of Spies displays some of Spielberg's best work. A conflicting tale transformed into an intriguing story that was meant to be brought to screen, Bridge of Spies offers up not only a wholesome story of how "little men" can make a big difference in the world, but also a plethora of substantial performances from both its lead and even the most minor of characters. Definitely one of Spielberg's best in the last few years in terms of direction, this spy thriller may be one of the year's best films. 


Much like Daniel Day-Lewis led the show with an iron fist and a top hat in 2012's Lincoln, Tom Hanks empowers this film with calm confidence as he takes on a case of corrupt courtrooms and hard-boiled politicians. If you're a fan of movies, or you've at least heard of the Toy Story franchise, than you probably consider Mr. Tom Hanks as one of Hollywood's top names. While he's had much more success beyond his animated roles, starring in acclaimed films like Apollo 13, Forrest Gump, Cast Away, and a number of romantic comedies as well, Hanks remains one of the most talented in his game. Once your typical rom-com actor, getting Sleepless in Seattle and trading mail with Meg Ryan, once Hanks became a dramatic actor, he also became a house-hold name. Again with Bridge of Spies, under the direction of his old pal Spielberg, Hanks takes the lead as James Donovan, a straight-forward man of confidence and charisma. Set against the cold, cruel world of violent war and tense political espionage, Hanks offers up a delightful mix of sarcasm and determination as he brings an old-school charm to this serious drama. Not distinctly his best role, as 2013's duo of Captain Phillips and Saving Mr. Banks offering some worthy performances for the actor, this flick definitely displays how brilliant Hanks can be under the watchful eyes of Spielberg and writers Ethan and Joel Coen.                   

The rest of the cast, while sadly overshadowed by the tour de force performance by Hanks, performs decently enough to be mentioned. One character in particular that stood out was the accused Soviet spy Rudolf Abel, played by Mark Rylance. Silent and sincere in light of his accusations, Rylance brings a certain calmness to his character, becoming a wise, passive man who cares little of his final sentence. Provoking Hanks' leading lawyer to take the necessary action to save him from being executed, Rylance's somewhat dull persona in Abel soon becomes Donovan's only grasp of sanity. Later forming a profound friendship, even in great opposition by their feuding nations, the duo of Hanks and Rylance perform amazingly together, ultimately keeping the dreary politics exciting and meaningful. The remaining cast, including Alan Alda and Amy Ryan, delivered adequate supporting performances, but were ultimately not as lasting as Hanks.


Overall, Bridge of Spies may be one of the year's best political dramas, delivering a simple yet profound story of how one city lawyer can make the world turn on him and send him to die, and ultimately come out on top, all with just a couple of words. Even with its two and a half-hour runtime, Bridge of Spies spins such an enthralling tale of corruption and espionage that you won't even care how long you've been in the theater seat. With a worthy cast led by the brilliant Tom Hanks, as well as some beautifully-shot cinematography, this Cold War thriller transports us into the world of old-school espionage, where not all spies wore elegant suits or drank their martinis shaken not stirred.


I gave this film an 8 out of 10, for its amazing direction by the legendary Steven Spielberg, its Oscar-worthy performance from the always-fantastic Mr. Hanks, and its brilliant tale of old-school espionage that isn't afraid to offer political debates and tense negotiations over flawed plots and endless gunplay. 

Speaking of gunplay and even more espionage, stay tuned this week for my review of the newest adventure of Agent 007 in Spectre. Also, get up to date on all the films you need to see this holiday season as I reveal the top winter films to see in theaters!       

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