Cast: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, Austin Stowell, Domenick Lombardozzi, Sebastian Koch, Eve Hewson, Billy Magnussen, Edward James Hyland.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Rating: 3 stars
In the late ’50s, the FBI arrest a Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance). The court appoints famous lawyer James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) to defend him in what many consider an open-and-shut case of trial and execution. However, Donovan, a committed legal professional, argues for Abel’s rights and prevents his execution on humanitarian grounds. This becomes crucial when American pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell), flying the top-secret U-2 plane crashes in Russia, creating a diplomatic incident. To save face, a prisoner exchange is considered and James Donovan is sent to East Berlin to negotiate the exchange.
Bridge of Spies recalls movies like Anatomy of a Murder in that it deals with legal processes and institutions. This is a movie about diplomacy and negotiation. Unlike Argo, which used an exceptional real-life incident to show how the US outfoxed a foreign power, Bridge of Spies shows diplomacy as it’s usually done by negotiators who bargain by means of persistence, charm and attrition. This is a spy movie for adults, where individuals don’t stand for themselves but for larger invisible forces we can’t see that exist implicitly in each interaction. This focus on the institution and process shatters any claim of inherent nobility to diplomacy as a profession.
The diplomats care about their national and personal interests more than they do about the lives of their citizens. We knew this of course, but it’s amazing to see it in the way Spielberg puts it. The most extraordinary part of the movie is the friendship between Soviet spy Rudolf Abel and Tom Hanks’ American lawyer. Their camaraderie is touching and funny. Tom Hanks is brilliant as he channels Jimmy Stewart in his mix of humour, vulnerability and firm courage. Rylance, especially, is incredibly funny. He gets the best lines. For example, when he talks about the Soviet Union, “The boss is not always right but he is always the boss”.
The movie also has its Spielberg moments. The opening sequence, showing Abel’s capture is incredibly suspenseful and tense, shot in many locations with plain-clothes officers blending in and out of the crowd. The movie also has an interlude showing the construction of the Berlin Wall which we see in a series of extended takes as bricks are laid and placed over gaps and as a person walks back to collect somebody else, the gap closes. More extraordinary of all is the dramatisation of Gary Powers’ plane crash.
The writer is programmer, Lightcube Film Society