Title: Bridge of Spies
Country: USA, Germany, India
Language: English, German, Russian
Genre: Drama, Biography
Director: Steven Spielberg
Music: Thomas Newman
Cinematography: Janusz Kaminski
Steven Spielberg’s 27th feature film is a superbly constructed retro-pigmented Cold War drama, inspired by the real-life happening of a prison exchange among USA, USSR and GDR in 1957, a fourth collaboration with Hanks, who plays our hero James B. Donovan, a New York lawyer, who is firstly appointed to defend a KGB spy Rudolf Abel (Rylance), and later, he is entrusted by CIA in negotiating the release of the American pilot Francis Gary Powers (Stowell), who is captured by Soviet Union during his spy mission, in exchange of Abel, which will be held in East Germany. Meanwhile an American graduate student Frederic Pryor (Rogers) has been arrested as a spy by GDR government, but in fact, he is innocent, out of his righteousness, James wants to change the 1-for-1 swapping to 2-1, insist both Powers and Pryor should be released, where CIA’s only interest is Powers, so will everything turns out as James hopes?
Spielberg sensibly enacts a more true-to-life depiction of the espionage activity in the movie’s slick opening, from the Hollow Nickel Case, Abel is introduced as a phlegmatic and practiced old-hand, who can steadily erase the evidence while FBI is rummaging his room, and Mark Rylance, a UK thespian, whose theatre achievement is overwhelmingly distinguished, proves that he can upstage Hanks without steeping into theatrics, his portrayal of Abel as a docile, reasonable and undaunted figure leaps out to be the takeaway of the entire movie, with his offhand epigram towards James’ impromptu questions like “are you afraid?” or “are you worried?”. “Does it help?” shows his much prepared devotion to his dangerous cause, which is also the reason why he is able to win over James’ admiration.
Hanks acts in his very comfort zone, being an overall good guy, like his previous effort in Paul Greengrass’ CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (2013), his goody-goody persona, aka, a standing man, has become quite weary, this is where dwells my major beef about the film, the script (with Coen brothers on board) conveniently establishes James as a textbook example of safeguarding the basic human rights without mining into his own inner struggle, as if from the very first moment, he is set about to be the unyielding fighter, against all odds of being the public enemy No. 2 to defend a so-called traitor, even after his own house being attacked, there is no single doubt ever flicking over his complexion about whether he should proceed this taxing case. More excruciatingly, he is also the one who miraculously persuades the jingoistic judge Byers (Matthews) from making a death penalty verdict to Abel by foretelling a possible prisoner-exchange would benefit from keeping Abel alive, and brilliantly accomplishes the tough deal without any assistance (he cannot even stay in the Hilton hotel) in Berlin. Everything tastes like an in-your-face American government propaganda of individual patriotism and the tropes are rather banal and a bit disappointing from Spielberg and co., e.g. the intentional juxtapositions of two disparate treatments of captives between USA and USSR, and an overlong shot of the hand of the GDR lawyer Vogel (Koch) after being denied for a handshake after delivering Pryor.
But then, fairly speaking, the film is a stunning accomplishment from the production team and a captivating political drama which reflects the highest quality of Hollywood filmmaking presently, nominated for 6 Oscars this year, apart from BEST PICTURE and BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY, the other four are well-grounded (BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR for Rylance, BEST ORIGINAL SCORE, SOUND MIX and PRODUCTION DESIGN), but one might highly suspect it will go home empty-handedly.