Ben Oliver

Banner image for Bridge of Spies

Bridge of Spies

We have to have the conversations our governments can’t.
27 November 2015

Tom Hanks stars as James B. Donovan, an insurance lawyer tasked with defending a Russian spy. He fights hard to ensure a fair trial, and even ends up going to Berlin to arrange a spy-exchange.

Spielberg keeps his history hat on after Lincoln, this time focusing on the Cold War. It’s a little more bombastic than Lincoln but that’s not saying much - Bridge of Spies is still a quiet, restrained piece of work. The colour palette is cool and has been carefully selected, the score is subtle and takes a back seat until it’s needed, and the performances are naturalistic.

The Coen brothers wrote the script and it shows - there’s a gentle sense of humour that stops things getting too drab, and often cuts through tense moments. It’s not always a good fit, one can’t help but wonder what someone else’s take on this would have been like, but it does lend an original tone to the film and differentiates it from Spielberg’s other work.

Hanks puts in another great performance after his fantastic work in Captain Phillips. He’s relatable and understated but doesn’t blend into the background. Mark Rylance plays Rudolf Abel, the spy; it’s the stand out role in the film. He comes over as a ‘normal’ (if slightly affected) man, which contrasts wonderfully with what we ‘know’ about him. I’d be surprised if he didn’t make some awards lists.

Without going into spoilers, the closing scenes are weak and try too hard to wrap things up with a bow on top. One feels the ‘classic’ cheesy Spielberg creeping in and it’s a sorry way to end a brilliant picture. There’s a sense of the inevitable throughout (perhaps the Coen influence again), then all of a sudden Bridge of Spies seems to lose focus.

Despite the mixed messages this is a great film from Spielberg. It’s hushed but tense and atmospheric; everything a Cold War film needs.

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