Mark Rylance and Tom Hanks both star in Bridge of Spies, the latest from Steven Spielberg. Inspired by a true story, the film takes place during the cold war. The opening scene captures almost everything that’s great about good spy movies. A phone rings and the spy, Rudolph Abel, answers it. He paints landscapes on a park bench, running his hand subtly across the bottom of the seat only to find a cleverly hidden piece of coded communication – meanwhile, agents watch him from their car. Bridge of Spies begins with an almost perfect shot. The spy in question sits at a mirror, painting a self portrait – his gaze travels back and forth between reflection and canvas; a beautiful metaphor for the self, identity and portrayal. What follows is a delightful chase through the Brooklyn subway system and Rudolph Abel, our spy, is eventually arrested. This leads to a quick and biased trial. Cue the entrance of insurance lawyer James Donovan who reluctantly accepts the questionable honour of representing the defendant. When an American pilot is captured by Russia, both Abel and Donovan find themselves at the centre of a bargain. With the intention to do a trade for each captive, Donovan finds himself in Berlin, in order to negotiate the terms of the swap. Meanwhile his fondness for Abel grows. Both men share a mutual respect and understanding for one another – an understanding that travels with Donovan as he attempts to come to a calm and peaceful agreement which will satisfy and benefit each party. The cold war brings with it a frost which ices up almost every scene of Bridge of Spies from the chilly and cruel prison cells in which several characters are confined, to the treatment of Donovan and his family by patriotic citizens who recognise that he is defending an enemy of the country, to the streets of Berlin where Donovan finds himself in a frustrating and pressurised attempt to do right by all.
Bridge of Spies takes place in a world of thick cigar smoke, thick over coats, viscious head colds and crystal whiskey glasses. Tom Hanks breathes life into the words he delivers as the American lawyer who battles with his own consciousness. Hanks brilliantly creates a man with whom it’s easy to sympathise, respect and associate. He has played the every man so many times and yet always seems to understand enough about each character he inhabits in order to create something new and compelling. Mark Rylance is a wonder as Abel, a man with a blurred identity, background and sense of place. When both characters are together the film is at its best; their mutual fondness for one another becoming the central pumping heart of the movie. When you consider that Bridge of Spies is an award season movie from Spielberg, which deals with patriotism, it’s understandable that alarm bells initially rang in my head. Luckily this is not a patriotic movie, merely one about patriotism. My concerns about sitting through another film as dreary and attention seeking as Lincoln melted away in the film’s opening minutes. It’s important to recognise just what a fantastic picture Bridge of Spies paints of life for Americans – particularly the nation’s children – during the cold war. It also does a superb job of recreating the panic and tragedy that came with the construction of the Berlin Wall. Bridge of Spies is a truly satisfying movie which left me with a hearty smile smeared across my face. It’s about respect, dignity and doing the right thing; a surprisingly witty and terribly tense story of a good man out of place, trying to get home and ease his cold. I truly loved it.
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