Bridge of Spies Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenwriters: Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Cast: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Rated PG-13 | 141 Minutes
Release Date: October 16, 2015
“Everyone deserves a defense… every person matters.”
Directed by Steven Spielberg (Lincoln), Bridge of Spies is a Cold War thriller based on the 1960 U-2 incident.
Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips) stars as James Donovan, a Brooklyn insurance lawyer recruited by the CIA to negotiate the release of Lt. Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell), a captured American U-2 pilot.
Donovan boards a plane to Berlin, hoping to win the young man’s freedom through a prisoner exchange. His bargaining chip? Convicted Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), who Donovan defended in court years earlier. There’s one little hitch, though. Another American, college student Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers), has been arrested and is being held without charge by the East German police. Now Donovan must avoid being detained and broker one Russian spy for two Americans.
Written by Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, and Joel Coen, Bridge of Spies is another handsome, magnificently crafted period piece from Spielberg. Cinematographer Janusz Kamiński (Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List) brings the absorbing, richly layered story to life with sumptuous imagery. Every frame is a mini-masterpiece; masters working within every facet of filmmaking to breathe life into the Cold War and this riveting historical event.
In many ways, Bridge of Spies is a Frank Capra film. A mix of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and It’s a Wonderful Life, Bridge of Spies is overly idealistic and exceedingly sentimental. The spirit of Capra is embodied in Hanks, who serves as Spielberg’s Jimmy Stewart. Hanks’ Donovan is a good man doing the right thing, who can’t wait to get back home to his family (and his bed). He’s so folksy and charming, you can’t help but root for the guy.
There’s a level of authenticity in Bridge of Spies that goes beyond costuming and production design – it’s a Cold War thriller that feels as if it were made in the ’50s. It feels like a propaganda film at times – not unlike Capra’s Prelude to War – portraying the quixotic America that baby boomers grew up in. It’s impeccably crafted and expertly performed, but Bridge of Spies is just too wholesome for its own good.
The finale plays out like most Spielberg movies do these days: sappily, with heavy-handed metaphors pounding you over the head until you submit to his Norman Rockwell-esque portrait of Americana. Still, despite Spielberg’s attempts to sabotage his own storytelling, Bridge of Spies succeeds thanks in large part to an engaging script and excellent work by Rylance and Hanks, who light up the dark with undeniable chemistry.
One has to wonder when Spielberg will grow tired of crafting these exquisite history lessons and get back to the business of imagining the future. The last time Spielberg made a “contemporary” film, it was 2005’s War of the Worlds. Since then, he has been content to stick with historical dramas, revisiting the American Civil War, World War I, and the Cold War. Even his most recent big-budget spectacles – The Adventures of Tintin and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – are firmly set in and around World War II.
As someone who is writing about movies today because of seminal films like Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and Jurassic Park, I sincerely hope Spielberg can find the inspiration to tell stories that make us wonder again. As nostalgic as Spielberg is for the America he grew up in, I find myself longing for the kind of movies he used to make.