Spy dramas have been an often dipped into genre for film over the years. They often produce excellent films, most recently the best has been Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
This year we’ve got a spy film which has Stephen Spielberg directing a Coen brothers polished screenplay starring Tom Hanks. “Hello… is that the academy? Yes we’d like your attention please.”
Bridge Of Spies doesn’t take long to get into a Catch Me If You Can style chase to arrest Mark Ryalnce’s Rudolf Abel. They find him in a Brooklyn apartment, not quite dressed, and asking to clear his palette giving him chance to clear away some final signs of espionage.
We meet Tom Hanks as James Donovan, an efficient insurance lawyer who is clearly held in high regard. Hence why he’s asked to defend Abel, the soviet spy. It’s a thinly veiled show to prove that despite tensions he will get a fair and open trial. As the idea of giving Abel a fair trial is slowly chipped away it begins to feel as though nothing is at stake until Hank’s James Donovan showed that the very integrity of the US justice system is. The film relaxes into the compelling exchanges between the lawyer and his defendant Rudolf Abel. They sprinkled with a perfect amount of humour that reek of the Coens.
The tension is lacking until the exchange of spies is conceived, but when it comes you can hear the cogs turning in the minds of Donovan, the CIA, the Soviet representatives and the German lawyer. Every piece of dialogue is embroiled in calculation and recalculation. The humour is still evenly spread out despite the lives at risk, the jokes slide off the icy exterior to warm the cockles.
It’s thanks to James Donovan that the US still have Abel to exchange when their spy, Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) is captured and convicted of espionage and war crimes. Amongst this an American student, Frederic Pryor, studying Soviet economics is held as a suspected by spy by the German Democratic Republic.
Tom Hank’s unerring positivity even in the face of the leader of the KGB and the CIA is heart warming, proving that the icy exterior is just a front for a truly optimistic story that only Spielberg could find amongst espionage, nations at arms and a web of secrets. The James Stewart in Mr Smith Goes To Washington comparisons are undeniable. His compassion and determination to swap Abel for both Powers and Pryor is seen as a weakness by the CIA who have used Donovan as private citizen to negotiate their exchange. They only care about Powers, Pryor is the one stupid enough to study the Soviet’s during the Cold War.
Finally, but by no means the least important is Spielberg’s incredible craftsmanship throughout the film. The palate is so cold you can see the breath of every word uttered hanging in the icy air. He uses incredible imagery inspired by the Berlin wall. On his travels through Berlin, Donovan witnesses an unfortunate event as a family tries to escape the terror of East Germany, this is mirrored by children safely playing when he returns to America. An incident that will continue to happen thanks in part to his role in the war.