BRIDGE OF SPIES (USA|India|Germany/12A/141mins)
Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Jesse Plemons, Alan Alda, Amy Ryan.
THE PLOT: During the Cold War in 1957, a Soviet spy named Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) is caught in Brooklyn, and charged for his crimes. Insurance lawyer Jim B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) is drafted in to represent Abel, to ensure he gets a fair trial. After convincing the judge that Abel should not be put to death for espionage, and after a U-2 spy plane is shot down over Russia, Donovan travels to Berlin to negotiate a prisoner exchange between the two countries.
THE VERDICT: Based on the true story of Jim B. Donovan, pilot Francis Gary Powers, Rudolf Abel and a US student in Germany who found himself caught up in the negotiations, Frederic Pryor. This is not Tom Hanks’ first foray into Cold War drama, and it has all the feel of a Steven Speilberg film. Although the running time is a whopping 141 minutes, ‘Bridge of Spies’ is almost always engaging, even when it becomes complicated and meandering.
Tom Hanks, as usual, is on wonderful form as Jim B. Donovan. Hanks plays the character like he is the embodiment of all the best parts of America; patriotic but not radical, fair, and concerned with the well being of his fellow man. Hanks is engaging and endlessly watchable on screen, and makes Donovan the heart and soul of the film, as he fights to do the right thing, even if it is not the popular thing. Mark Rylance is wonderful as Soviet spy Rudolf Abel; endlessly calm and pragmatic, and consistently wondering if worrying would help make things different. The rest of the cast is made up of Alan Alda, Jesse Plemons, Domenick Lombardozzi and our own Eve Hewson turning up.
The screenplay for the film was written by Matt Charman and Joel and Ethan Coen, and is based – as mentioned – on real events. The first hour of the film focuses on Rudolf’s trial, the hardships endured by Donovan for representing a spy, and the gentle respect that grows up between the two men. The remainder of the film casts a wider net, with Donovan going off to Berlin to negotiate in secret, and trying to sort lies from the truth. This, after the U-2 plane is shot down in graphic detail, is where the film begins to meander, and get caught up in the depths of the politics going on at the time.
Director Steven Spielberg has created an intriguing film that explores the depth of danger during the Cold War, and is perhaps one of the first narrative feature films to show the Berlin Wall actually being built. Among all the intrigue and engrossing performances, there is a slightly muddled feel to ‘Bridge of Spies’ however, with the 141 minute running time only serving to muddle things further and drag things out. Thankfully, Tom Hanks and the rest of the cast are engaging enough to keep audience interest.
In all, ‘Bridge of Spies’ is an engaging and well-acted Cold War thriller. Rylance and Hanks are engrossing in their roles even though the running time is a little too drawn out, the politics slightly dense and the final moments of the film just sentimental enough to be considered truly Spielberg-ian.
Review by Brogen Hayes

Bridge of Spies
Review by Brogen Hayes
  • filmbuff2011

    Based on a true story set at the height of the Cold War, Bridge Of Spies sees Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks working together for the third time. They’re a perfect fit for this tale of espionage, distrust and humanity at a time when the latter was often cast aside. In 1957, Brooklyn artist Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) is arrested by the FBI on suspicion of espionage and collusion with the Soviets, then a growing power in the space race. He speaks with a British accent but his background is Russian. Facing a jail term and a possible death sentence, of which he’s not too worried, he’s assigned a lawyer to represent him in court under due process. Jim Donovan (Tom Hanks) is a mild-mannered insurance lawyer who testified for the prosecution on the Nuremburg trials. Despite knowing that he will most likely lose his case, Donovan firmly believes in the American Constitution and the right of the accused to a fair trial before his peers. His family, including his wife Mary (Amy Ryan), know that he’s doing the right thing. But not everyone else does – including the media and even the judge on the case. The case is quickly processed and Abel is sent to jail. Later on, Donovan is called upon by the FBI and the CIA to act as an unofficial mediator in an exchange of prisoners at the Glienicke Bridge in Berlin. It is proposed that Abel will be passed over to the Russians, in exchange for shot-down U-2 spy pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell). At the same time, the East Germans will pass over a student (Will Rogers) who was caught for dissent. But given the complexities involved between the parties, will it all go according to plan? With a screenplay written by Matt Charman, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, Bridge Of Spies is an assuredly confident and surprisingly good-humoured story of two men on different sides of the fence during a war of words and ideologies, rather than of weapons. Donovan is able to look past all the reds-under-the-beds paranoia of his time and just deal with his client as a man, rather than as a spy. There’s a wonderfully played scene early on, where an imprisoned Abel relates to Donovan a story involving a ‘standing man’ from his youth, a man who stood up after repeated beatings and didn’t give up. Abel sees something similar in Donovan – an unremarkable man capable of remarkable things. Donovan is a man who can negotiate in a calm but resolute manner while maintaining an air of trust about him. But he also likes the simple things, like a decent breakfast and a proper bed. Hanks is ideally cast here. His wholesome Americanness and firm, unyielding sense of what is right and wrong in a world gone mad is an ideal fit for Donovan. Rylance, an acclaimed English theatre actor who makes occasional excursions into cinema, is also excellent as Abel. Spielberg had wanted to work with him as far back as Empire Of The Sun. Spielberg drew from his own experiences of Cold War fears – the bathtub scene with Donovan’s son early on in the story is taken directly from Spielberg’s childhood. He captures the period detail brilliantly, as the Berlin Wall is constructed right before Donovan’s eyes, dividing up streets, neighbours and zones. A powerful moment involving an escape attempt over the Berlin Wall is repeated from a different angle towards the end, reminding us of the freedoms we often taken for granted in our time. Thomas Newman’s stirring music and Janusz Kaminski’s crisp cinematography round out a well-made film. Bridge Of Spies may feel low-key compared to other Spielberg historical films like Schindler’s List and Munich, but that’s to Spielberg’s credit. This is a film that is not really about espionage, borders and rampant suspicion. It’s about ordinary men doing what they feel is right, whatever side they’re on. Bridge Of Spies is solid entertainment. ****

  • emerb

    “Bridge of Spies” is a smart, taut, old-school thriller directed by Steven Spielberg and based on an excellent script from Matt Charman and Joel and Ethan Coen. It is a gripping, true-life espionage tale starring an excellent Tom Hanks as a Brooklyn lawyer who risked his life to free both an American spy whose plane was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960 and an American student who had ended up on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall at the worst possible time. The plan was to hand over their own incarcerated Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), in a classic cold war prisoner exchange at dawn on the Glienecke bridge spanning East and West Berlin – the so-called “Bridge of Spies”, with snipers waiting on both sides ready to take their man out in case of last-second betrayal.

    The film opens in Brooklyn, 1957 where a seemingly meek man of late middle age quietly goes about his daily routine. What follows is a perfectly paced and mesmerizing sequence with minimal dialogue and no music, set in the subway system. This mysterious man eludes a battery of serious FBI men in dark coats and hats — but only temporarily, as it turns out. Eventually they show up at his door, put him in cuffs and turn the place upside down in search of evidence. There’s little doubt this man , Rudolf Abel, is a Soviet spy, but he will be given a trial, so America can show the world everyone in the United States is entitled to a defence, even an illegal immigrant traitor.

    His case is assigned to a reluctant James Donovan (Tom Hanks), a stolid Brooklyn insurance lawyer and genial family man. He seems an unlikely choice to defend Abel but he worked as a prosecution counsel during the trial of Nazi criminals in Nuremberg following World War II. He has a well-respected legal presence and it is believed he will mount a capable defence, even though it will make him one of the most despised men in America and of course there is no chance he will win the case. Donovan isn’t happy to take on the case of the reviled Russian mole but he believes the man is entitled to a fair trial regardless of the Cold War climate. And so an unlikely friendship between an American patriot and a Russian operative is born!. His aggressive defence of the obviously guilty man makes him a pariah in the press and even his wife, played by Amy Ryan, and their children have their doubts.

    Abel is convicted, but Donovan persuades the judge not to execute his client, arguing that imprisoning Abel instead may provide “insurance’’ for future American spies who are captured. Sure enough, the State Department and Central Intelligence Agency come calling when Air Force pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) is downed while taking spy photos over the Soviet Union. Now Donovan has a new assignment and is enlisted by CIA director Allen Dulles (Peter McRobbie) to go to Berlin and negotiate an exchange. It is strictly unofficial and not only must he now cope with the uncertainty of securing a just outcome, but also with the possibility of getting himself killed. Location shifts from the streets of New York to a grey, bleak, wintry East Berlin, where Donovan is plunged into the unfamiliar and gets deeply entwined in a series of increasingly convoluted adventures as he attempts to secure a trade of Abel for Powers — along with an American student, Frederic L. Pryor, recently detained by the Germans after finding himself on the wrong side of the newly built Berlin Wall. The CIA is only interested in Powers, but Donovan ignores their orders, and presses ahead for a two-for-one swap. What follows is a tense and memorably conducted encounter in the middle of the night on a barricaded bridge that once connected East and West Berlin.

    Hanks is flawless as the deeply principled Donovan who brokered the whole arrangement almost singlehandedly. His performance is both assured and very satisfying. He is a good decent man who believes it to be his constitutional duty to defend a man who is in fact guilty of spying and attempting to undermine the American state and its constitution. Hanks is always a reliable bet when you need a great man of integrity and strength but one who is not to be trifled with when things take a turn. British actor Mark Rylance is sure to yield an Oscar nomination for his remarkable and career-defining performance as the bespectacled and reserved Russian spy Abel. His is a quietly voiced and enigmatic character who greets his arresting officers in his chaotic Brooklyn apartment dressed in underwear, asking meekly if he can put in his false teeth! It is a subtle and dignified but yet brilliant performance. The supporting cast is not star studded but includes Amy Ryan as Donovan’s wife and Scott Shepherd as a CIA operative who becomes Donovan’s unofficial partner in espionage, and all prove themselves to be more than capable.

    “Bridge of Spies” is a chilling, suspenseful, action packed but yet thoughtful spy story which could be seen as the American version of the brilliant British “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”. Spielberg cleverly and vividly brings the Cold War and the feel of a divided Berlin to life, with meticulous detailing and a constant atmosphere of tension and dread. He has taken an important but largely forgotten event of the Cold War and turned it into not only a tense and at times heart-thumping thriller but also a gripping character study. For me, it is one of his finest films and a reminder that Speilberg is still a terrific and confident master of his craft.

  • Clive Bower

    Bridge Of Spies- Everything it says on the tin, great cast, gripping story line a cut above the rest , a film that does not disapoint.