After over 40 years in the film making business, Spielberg continues to produce wonderful pieces of filmmaking and craftsmanship. Hanks on typically great form but Rylance is truly brilliant.
It’s testament to Steven Spielberg’s genius that from his debut feature Duel which was released in 1971 to 2015 he is still as prolific as ever.
The saga of Bridge of Spies begins in 1957 when Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) is arrested on the knowledge that he is actually doubling as a Soviet spy. The government then enlists James B Donovan (Tom Hanks) to give the country the illusion that Abel was convicted through ‘due process’. However, complications arise and a US spy is captured by the Soviet Union and it’s down to Donovan to devise an exchange.
In a film, which touches upon espionage, divisions between East Berlin and West, the heightening paranoia of the possibility of a third World War, Spielberg expertly handles the plot by concentrating the heart of the drama between two characters and it is here where the film really shines. Both Hanks and Rylance shine as two sides of the same coin. Essentially this is a film about two men doing the jobs their countries had assigned to them.
Having previously successfully collaborated in universally praised films such as Saving Private Ryan and Catch Me If You Can as well as both serving as executive producers in the brilliant mini-series Band Of Brothers, Hanks and Spielberg have a great track record together. Hanks is wonderful in the role of the everyday insurance lawyer tasked with effectively deciding the course of the Cold War. He conveys with such ease the heart of a man who believes in what he does, and the nuances of a father and husband who wants to just be home. He’s a joy to watch and quietly commands the screen with his presence.
It comes as a warm surprise however, that despite Hanks being in such good form, it’s actually Mark Rylance’s performance as a soviet spy that steals the show. Effortlessly charming and convincing as a British born soviet citizen, his character in the wrong hands could have come across as lethargic, lifeless and abstract. It’s to his credit that he takes every scene he’s in and makes it his own. The opening set-piece in which he is followed and then apprehended in his apartment highlights from the off at how comfortably he’s slipped into the skin of a man who actually existed, and get’s lost in the role. The supporting cast that surrounds these two main players are all also uniformly excellent, including performances from Jessie Plemons, Amy Ryan and Scott Shepard.
That being said there is still much else to admire. The script, penned by Matt Charman with some noticeable additions from the Coen Brothers, is absolutely delightful. As expected, some liberties are taken with the facts of what happened in real life but it remains faithful to the majority of history and is peppered with moments of undeniable wit and charm, namely a running gag between Hanks and Rylance that ends up being the gift that keeps on giving. Furthermore, Spielberg, along with cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, handsomely frame the story with some beautiful visuals; the snowy backdrop of Berlin especially, looks beautiful. As with many of Spielberg’s works, the imagery is crisp and enjoyable to look at. On top of the camera work and cinematography is the brilliantly understated score of Thomas Newman who bravely steps into the role dominated by John Williams. This is only the first time since 1985’s The Colour Purple that Spielberg has collaborated with another composer but Newman’s score ebbs along gently and adds a fine texture to the final product.
In many ways this can be seen a companion piece with Spielberg’s Oscar-winning Lincoln as the story follows a man who is fighting against everyone to uphold the constitution. One should also add that those who might be expecting the grittiness and hard-boiled style of Munich will be going in misinformed and misguided, as Bridge of Spies instead evokes the sensibility and charm of the likes of War Horse. Nonetheless, it’s hard to not be delighted by this effort from Spielberg who shows once again, why he’s one of the most respected and brilliant minds in Hollywood.
Bridge of Spies (2015), directed by Steven Spielberg, is distributed in the UK by 20th Century Fox. Certificate 12A.