Sunday, November 08, 2015

Bridge Of Spies

Year: 2015
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, Austin Stowell, Scott Shepherd

Plot: Based on the true story of Jim Donovan, an insurance lawyer who helped negotiate the successful exchange of two American prisoners and a convicted Russian spy during the Cold War.

Review: It's been a long three years since Steven Spielberg directed a film, the last being Lincoln. Bridge Of Spies is another entry into his long list of true story adaptations.

In his latest, set during the Cold War in 1957, Tom Hanks portrays Jim Donovan, an insurance lawyer hired by the US government to represent Rudolf Abel, a Russian spy arrested by the FBI. From the outset, it's pretty clear everyone wants to sentence Abel to death, except for Donovan, who believes in giving the man a fair defense in court. Doing so comes at a high price towards him and his family, and getting no cooperation from anyone including his firm and even the judge makes it even harder, but he tries his best anyway, and subsequently loses. Then, an American pilot gets shot down in Russia while carrying out spying activities and Donovan is asked to negotiate an exchange between the US and USSR: Abel for Powers, the pilot. Things become more complicated when an American student named Pryor is arrested in East Berlin by the Stasi, and Donovan wants him released as well.

As usual, in terms of authenticity, Spielberg scores a lot of points. The setting looks good, the costumes fit the era and the things we see on the street, television and cinemas of the era are all spot on. Even schoolchildren are seen being educated about nuclear destruction, as the fear of nuclear war was on the rise at the time. Credit also goes into the amount of details the film shows as regards to story and facts. Spielberg, working on a script by the Coen brothers, puts all the facts in place and for the most part, paces the film well, though it does get a tad tiresome towards the end.

Hanks is as always on point, never making a bad film as I recall. As Donovan, he balances the line between a good family man and a skilful lawyer very well. There is a great scene between Hanks and Scott Shepherd as a CIA agent, arguing about his role in Abel's case, and Hanks shows what Donovan is truly made of. Mark Rylance delivers a solid performance too as Abel, presenting him as an unassuming man who doesn't look like a spy at all, just an old man who served his country and accepts whatever judgment passed on him. The rest of the cast are alright, but they don't have enough screen time to make a mark.

The film is overall solid, as most Spielberg films are, but the man kept the audience at arm's length here. The emotional connection between us and the story isn't really felt, despite the great performances at hand. It serves better as a historical account than an engaging story, though it does have its moments. The editing can also be tightened a little to shorten the 141 minute runtime.

Overall, Bridge Of Spies is a watchable film thanks to Tom Hanks, though it's clearly not Steven Spielberg's best work. (7/10)

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