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In the cold war, a lawyer, James B. Donovan is recruited by the CIA and involved in an intense negotiation mission to release and exchange a CIA U-2 spy-plane pilot, Francis G. Powers. The pilot was arrested alive after his plane was shot down by the Soviet Union during a mission and stays in the company of a KGB intelligence officer, Rudolf Abel, who was arrested for espionage in the US.Written by
Debut American Hollywood produced screenplay of screenwriter Matt Charman. Bridge of Spies (2015) was Charman's only second produced theatrical feature film screenplay after his first, Suite Française (2014), a UK-French-Canadian-Belgian international co-production, which was a World War II romantic-drama. On both pictures, Charman acted as a co-screenwriter. See more »
The man in the background, working on the front of the U2, removes the pencil from his ear three times as the scene shifts to different perspectives. See more »
carries a spirit of all-American-ism without being too preachy, keeping a wit about it and Tom Hanks
One of the surprising things about Bridge of Spies is not really that Steven Spielberg directed this story, which tracks the trial and then trade of a Russian spy in 1957 (an exchange for an American pilot, and someone else who I'll get to shortly). It's the kind of material that would attract Spielberg, especially with the hero of the story, Jim Donovan (Tom Hanks), who comes into a situation he shouldn't be involved with but not only can pull off talking and reasoning with people and finding the better side of a situation or person's nature. What's surprising in a way is the involvement of the Coen brothers with the script.
It's hard to say if Matt Charman was the primary writer (someone I'm not familiar with, not least on the level of his co-writers) and if the brothers came in on a polish. But watching the movie, it does make more sense - certainly more than Unbroken, which barely has their touch - since it carries a lot of dry wit in the exchanges between characters, in particular the opposing attitudes of people in this 'period' setting. Hanks' Donovan is a straight-shooting guy who believes in the constitution of the United States and wants to do right, legally speaking, by his client Rudolf (Mark Rylance in a fine, subtle supporting role), and doesn't really care per-say what he's done or didn't do. This doesn't fly well in a society that is overrun with Red-Scare fever and end up doing the worst of things when in total fear of things (i.e. the A-bomb, which gets a kind of cameo in the film in a way that Spielberg I'm sure has a personal connection with, being a child of the 50's, but I digress).
The Coens I think brought a sense of realism to things, but also stylization; the way characters talk at times there's a lot of things where people try to figure the other person out, which is fascinating to watch. When Donovan arrives at the first part of the mission he's given in the second part of the film, to do this exchange of the Russian for an American pilot caught by the enemy, he goes to the Russians and doesn't talk to the lawyer (who he thought to talk to) but some other official. Spielberg covers this expertly, going in on Hanks and the other actor at just the right moments to emphasize things getting tenser - another young American, a student caught up in the mix of things (it IS East Berlin, after all) - but the script dictates a lot of the momentum here. And at the same time the Coens aren't necessarily making it 'Coens-y', in a manner of speaking; they serve their filmmaker extremely well, giving a light air to a good number of scenes in a way that keeps the tension and suspense in a good balance.
In a way it's interesting to get this so soon after The Martian, also in theaters: two films about perilous situations and men caught in a struggle to survive, and two stories that benefit from some levity. Between the two though, Bridge of Spies is the more serious affair, and certainly Spielberg has a lot thematically on his plate. The story takes place during the Cold War time, but it's really a war-war (so to speak, sorry, couldn't find another way to put it), only with terse words and missions via the CIA instead of men on a battlefield. At the same time I feel like the message can, and probably will, resonate today; Spielberg knows that we're in times where it can be dubious whether people are put on trial and given proper legal counsel if they're suspected 'others' or combatants, and if they get the counsel who knows how the trial will go.
Bridge of Spies may have Hanks being, shall we say, Jimmy Stewart-like (I know other critics will or have), and is the guy the audience likes - his endearing characteristic in the second half, of all things, is a cold. But it's because Spielberg embraces this, as does Hanks in playing him, that he's a man who will stop at nothing to get done what needs to be done for a man's freedom and security (or how he sees it, so down the line, despite whatever happens in prison walls with glaring lights and big questions about this or that for information). Perhaps with a tougher kind of actor this wouldn't work, like I could never picture, say, Bruce Willis in this role. Hanks comes in and is unequivocal in his earnest desire for justice ("Everyone deserves a defense, every life matters" echoes another Spielberg motto in Schindler's List), and it's refreshing in a way to see this in a movie right now.
Two little issues: the film's ending is a little long, with a coda that feels like it stretches just a little longer than it should, albeit for a visual callback that does add a bittersweet tinge that is welcome and interesting; and the lack of a John Williams score (the first for Spielberg in 30 years) is startling. Thomas Newman isn't bad at his work, but it's unremarkable, and doesn't give certain scenes that do need a little extra punch or kick that 'Spielberg' type of music. It's hard to describe it, but I feel it when I do, especially during the climax.
Aside from those small points, this is near-classic work by this director, with a star in top form who is wholly convincing. It's also a wholesome movie in that old-time Hollywood sense, but not in a way that should date it any time soon; it takes a stand for what should be held accountable for those accused, and that, really, having a good insurance policy is maybe the only policy that's logical.
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