Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, Austin Stowell, Scott Shepherd, Jesse Plemons, Sebastian Koch
Run Time: 141 mins
‘Bridge of Spies’ tells the true story of James B. Donovan, a respected insurance lawyer who is entrusted with negotiating Francis Gary Powers, a spy whose plane was shot down over the Soviet Union and Frederic Pryor, a university student caught up in the wrong place at the wrong time for Rudolf Abel, a suspect Soviet spy who is in the hands of the United States at the height of the Cold War. The latest film directed by one of the masters, Steven Spielberg seems looks as if it’s business as usual for the maestro. It certainly inspires confidence when you have a formula of Spielberg directing, Tom Hanks in the lead role, Mark Rylance in a supporting role, Janusz Kaminski as cinematographer and a Coen Brothers script which tells a true story. This must be a surefire hit, right?
‘Bridge of Spies’ is usual business for Spielberg – it’s a very engaging story, has a great script and features a fantastic performance from Mark Rylance. The problem with ‘Bridge of Spies’ however lies within its pacing – whilst its first hour is great, the second half changes tone and shifts down a notch and can’t quite match the compelling courtroom drama film that the first half of the film aspires to be. It’s also sadly the case that the trailer practically shows the entire film in a condensed format – if you’ve seen the trailer, then you’ll have virtually seen the film.
Flaws aside, the first half truly is wonderful. The film opens up with a series of scenes following Mark Rylance’s character, Rudolf Abel, who is suspected to be a Soviet spy that are so well realised and choreographed. Once arrested (and what sets the basis for the entire film), Spielberg makes the viewer question their morals as the Americans just want to say that Abel has been fairly represented in his trial whereas Donovan actively pursues to help redeem himself. “Everyone deserves a defense. Everyone matters,” Donovan argues.
Performances-wise, the film is very strong. Tom Hanks, although he won’t receive any Awards acclaim, does a good job here as James B. Donovan who wants to do his job seriously, or as Rylance’s character, Abel calls him “the standing man” who despite constantly being undermined by others always picks himself up and fights back. Mark Rylance is stunning here and surely is destined for contention in the Best Supporting Actor category in the upcoming Academy Awards. His mannerisms are perfect and the audience really feel for his character who he portrays as extremely intelligent but is still very human and empathetic. Perhaps it’s the omission of Rylance in the second half that forces the film to shift down a notch?
The second half of the film whilst still strong in its own right but is very different in tone to the courtroom drama that the film aspires to be in the first half. It deals with the exchange of the individuals concerned and there are many visceral sequences of the Berlin Wall being constructed and this is where Kaminski really gets to demonstrate his cinematography skills and a lot of greys and whites are used to showcase this. As a film in its own right, the second half of the film works but it just cannot stand up to such a wonderfully realised first act and this ultimately brings the film down as a whole.
It’s a real shame that the marketing for this film has tarnished it. It gives away virtually the entire film which is a real shame – of course the film is better than the trailer but it does leave a sour note. Furthermore, Thomas Newman, stepping in for Spielberg regular John Williams can’t even come close to emulating Williams’ genius and the score feels phoned-in.
Overall, ‘Bridge of Spies’ is another winner from Spielberg and it is extremely engaging and a satisfying watch. Both Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance are excellent in this film, Rylance deserving of Awards attention. It’s just a shame that the film experiences a tonal shift mid-way through (although both halves work in their own right) and the trailer gives away virtually the entire film. In terms of the film’s Oscar prospects, it’s likely it will get some nominations but whether it wins anything is another story. I’d say that Rylance is probably the film’s biggest shot. But as a film in its own right and as a Steven Spielberg film, it’s business as usual.