Bridge of Spies is a rare film, a historical thriller that is both authentic and unglamorized, yet still thoughtful and exciting. While it’s a small story, it fits within a global and historical context, and remains both an informative and entertaining journey. Only a master filmmaker could handle a subject like this with such detail, precision, and skill, and Steven Spielberg rises to the challenge, submitting yet another piece of evidence that seeks to prove he is the greatest filmmaker that the industry has ever seen.
It’s 1957, and the Cold War is in full force. Both the United States and the Soviet Union fear the threat of nuclear war, and resort to espionage as the source of competition and combat. In the middle of Brooklyn, a soviet spy (Mark Ryllance) is caught attempting to infiltrate American intelligence, and is arrested by the CIA. Left alone with no help in sight, he finds comfort in Walter Donovan (Tom Hanks), an American insurance lawyer appointed to defending him in court. With the world against him, Donovan seeks only to remain loyal to the ideals of the U.S. Constitution, and give due process to a foreign agent. When a U.S. agent is caught behind enemy lines in the heart of the Soviet Union, Donovan is assigned to both rescue a fellow American and resolve a potential conflict.
Steven Spielberg is the greatest director in film history, and Bridge of Spies is a brilliant example of his skills. Spielberg doesn’t seek to create any artificial tension, but instead lets the story tell itself and allow the natural drama of what happened to be shown. Smartly, Spielberg focuses the story on greater conflicts between the ideological differences between these two nations. In the heart of a great conflict, Donovan’s sentiments rise above idealism; this is a man who believes in his country, and is willing to protect its integrity regardless of the lengths.
The other remarkable quality of Bridge of Spies is how straight forward the film is. It’s a very dialogue driven film, and it’s the excellent exchanges and knowledgeable actors that sell the realism. It’s also incredible how deep the film gets into the height of the political conflict without becoming contrived. At 125 minutes, it’s a long haul, but bearable due to the consistent intelligence of the film. The haunting score by Thomas Newman is also great, and adds further dramatic tension to an already well-crafted story.
As perusal, Spielberg gets excellent performances out of his cast. Tom Hanks is stellar, and while his performance isn’t flashy or overblown in sentiment, there’s a quite power to the here willing to do the right thing regardless of the perception of others or personal danger. Hanks captures Donovan in excellent fashion, and while he’s known for a history of excellent performances, he is worthy of an Academy-Award nomination for Best Actor. Matching Hanks, Mark Ryllance gives a breakout performance, and while similarly subtle and understated, also delves into a softer and even touching side to his character.
Bridge of Spies is one of the best films of the year, a frontrunner for many awards, and another masterwork to join Steven Spielberg’s catalogue of classics. A thrilling and timeless story, the film is smart in its historical setting and brilliant in its themes. Grade: A