Spielberg. Hanks. The Cold War. Rarely are films an easier sell than Bridge of Spies and the thing about Spielberg movies, at least for me , is that you can never walk away disappointed. Because even if the story doesn’t work for you, you can at least appreciate how well made the film is. Very few filmmakers in the world have the ability to do this, and to stay as consistently great as Spielberg has managed to stay, for such a long time no less.
In Bridge of Spies, Tom Hanks plays insurance lawyer James B. Donovan, who is selected to defend a captured Soviet spy (Mark Rylance). Despite facing harassment and judgement from other Americans, Donovan defends his client to the best of his ability – but it isn’t until the Russians capture a spy plane pilot that is he is presented with a much greater task: to negotiate the exchange of prisoners with the Soviet Union. In East Berlin. Without an official envoy.
Bridge of Spies brings Spielberg back to the prestige period-picture genre which he has grown fond of recently with films like War Horse, Lincoln and Munich, but Bridge of Spies is far better than all three of those films, because the subject-matter is far more compelling and above all, Spielberg’s superb knack for telling a story is always pleasing to watch. Bridge of Spies is as handsomely crafted as any Spielberg film. Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography is gorgeous, Thomas Newman’s score, while certainly not his best work is serviceable nonetheless, the story is solid and the attention to detail is impeccable, especially with the film’s depiction of East Berlin.
The film is lead by a wonderfully nuanced and charming central performance by Tom Hanks as James B. Donovan in a particularly Jimmy Stewart-esque role who reminds us why he is the most likable guy in Hollywood. But while Hanks is great to watch, Mark Rylance is just as good, if not more in a superbly subtle supporting performance as Russian spy Rudolf Abel. His scenes with Hanks often act as the heart of the film and despite being in a handful of scenes, he makes his presence felt.
That said, Bridge of Spies still failed to impress me the way Spielberg’s films have managed to in the past. The film lacks in the suspense and tension you would expect from a story of this nature. The story is compelling and consistently engaging but never truly captivating. And the film very much feels like a film that could have just as well have been made in the 50’s as indicated by the dialogue and the somewhat playful and at times schmaltzy tone of the movie.
But all in all, Bridge of Spies is still an admirable, well acted and engrossing film that deserves to be seen, because what Spielberg film doesn’t?