If it comes down to the Russians and Tom Hanks, I’m going with Hanks all the way.
In 1957, at the height of the Cold War, high-priced insurance attorney James Donovan (Tom Hanks) is given a very difficult task: Defend Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance) in court. Who is Rudolph Abel, may you ask? Well, he’s a Soviet spy who has been caught and brought in on charges of spying. Due to the fact that such things as Soviets, spies and terrorism are hot-button topics in the world at the time, it would only make sense that Abel see every charge that’s against him, go through, where he would have to live the rest of his days in shame and sadness. However, through his bosses, Donovan is the one chosen to defend Abel, just so that it seems like he was given a fair-trial in the country that he was solely out to ruin. It’s not an easy choice for Donovan and now that he’s put his family in the spotlight, it makes the case all the more difficult to see-through. But, because he’s a passionate, confidante lawyer, Donovan will stop at nothing to ensure that Abel sees a fair trial, and also, that his family walks away from it all, safe and unharmed.
What some people may not know about Bridge of Spies, is that while that plot I just described may be the main-center plot-line, there’s still another one in the works that finds its way of connecting all of the pieces of the puzzle together. There’s one involving a CIA spy plane being shot down over Russia, where the pilot, Francis Powers (Austin Stowell), is taken into custody; whereas the other concerns an American college student named Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers), who is studying in Berlin, only to then be detained for being on the wrong side of the wall. While Spielberg drops these two subplots in unexpectedly, they still fit in with the rest of the movie and make-up what is to be the latter-half of Bridge of Spies.
Was it necessary? Probably not, but then again, being in the hands of Spielberg, it still works.
Though it may feel like it’s two movies combined into one that’s maybe 20 or so minutes too long, Bridge of Spies does a solid job in giving its interesting story the treatment it deserves. Granted, the movie itself has a lot benefit from having a real-life story as complex and neat as this (Big Eyes was another film that I felt like benefited from this same fact), but still, Spielberg helps it all out by moving along the pace, whenever it seems like the movie may be slowing down to focus on one too many random add-ons and whatnot.
And this is all to say that, yes, Bridge of Spies is a good movie, just as it is. Spielberg and his trusted band of script-writers (Matt Charman and the Coen brothers) help stretch this story out to where it feels like we’re getting all sides of the story, told in the most complete, fair-sided way possible. For example, even when we do see Rudolph Abel early on in the movie, clearly participate in sneaky spying shenanigans, the movie still figures out a way to make him human, at the very least, sympathetic. That isn’t to say that Spielberg wants us to feel bad that he was a spy and got caught being one, but because he’s a person too, and like most people, has a family and regular life to get back to at home. And as Abel, Mark Rylance is very good in the role as he shows a certain level of heart and humor to this character that makes him a bit easier to stomach, given the charges that he’s being convicted of.
But Rylance isn’t the star of this movie – it’s clearly Tom Hanks. And while this may come as a shock to no one, but hey, Hanks is pretty great in this role. Because Donovan is a slick, silver-tongued lawyer that tends to know the right thing next, Hanks gets a chance to have some fun with this role and not just be the usual, near-superhero role that Tom Hanks tends to be given. Though Spielberg does get a bit carried-away in presenting those holding power with the U.S. as one-sided hot-heads who can’t wait to kill them some Commies, the movie still keeps its helmet on tight enough to where it doesn’t try to teach you a lesson, but more or less, tell you a story.
That, to me, is what Spielberg is usually best at: Telling a story, no matter what sort of relevance it may hold.
From what I can already tell, Bridge of Spies will probably go down as one of Spielberg’s least-known flicks, but there’s a novelty in that idea. While it isn’t necessarily lighting the world on fire, but that’s what makes it so special; it’s just a simple movie, trying to tell a relatively complex, if at times, confusing tale of espionage and political-maneuvering. Spielberg may try his hand too many times at making this story more than what it appears to be (those countless endings, oh jeez), however, he’s just doing what he’s been doing for nearly his whole career.
Sometimes, he preaches. Sometimes, he doesn’t. But all of the time, no matter what, he’s a story-teller. And it’s nice to see that form back in full-swing from Spielberg. Let’s hope it stays this time around and we don’t get another Indiana Jones 4.
And yes, that movie did happen.
Consensus: Though it won’t be remembered as one of Spielberg’s masterpieces any time soon, Bridge of Spies is still a well-acted, entertaining and, at times, very interesting take on a story that not too many people hear or know about.
7.5 / 10