During the Cold War, an American lawyer is recruited to defend an arrested Soviet spy in court, and then help the CIA facilitate an exchange of the spy for the Soviet captured American U2 spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers.
Hanks and Spielberg don’t really do average – least of all when they’re working together. Bridge Of Spies reminds us just how good both of these Hollywood royalty are while breathing fresh life into a genre largely abandoned by an industry far more interested in superheroes and reboots. (Okay, I know Spectre’s currently adorning just about every cinema screen in the country and it’s as spytastic as you can get, but that’s a whole different kind of espionage. And this is better).
Bridge Of Spies takes us back to the Cold War, when Russian and American spies were infiltrating each other’s countries to learn top level secrets and gain the upper hand in a dangerous nuclear arms race. Based on a true story, Hanks plays James Donovan, an insurance lawyer assigned to defend suspected Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Rylance), before leading negotiations between the two powers to arrange the swap of Able for an American pilot shot down while taking secret reconnaissance photos.
We all know that any film with Spielberg at the helm is going to be directed well; that’s about as certain in life as life itself. In the case of Bridge Of Spies, there’s an expectedly laudable effortlessness about the way in which he sweeps his audience along with the film – Thomas Newman’s sentimental score does its part in tugging our emotions in the right directions – but it’s Spielberg dexterity which has it hitting all the right notes.
But perhaps more surprising than the fact that Steven Spielberg is a good director is the script, written by fellow Hollywood heavyweights Joel & Ethan Coen, which is cold in setting but filled to the brim with warm wit and bravura. Hanks’ Donovan is as charming as Hanks himself, spouting off some lovely lines (often sharp retorts in the company of the bigoted CIA agent urging him to stick to the plan and basically forget about being a decent human being), and Mark Rylance – an actor long sought after by Spielberg – is absolutely brilliant as Abel. Charming, immovable and funny – he gets some of the best lines. Donovan asks why he’s not worried about getting the electric chair; his response, cool and collected: “Would it help?”.
Bridge Of Spies does just about everything right – the final scene threatens to undo some of the good work as it goes a bit too schmaltzy Spielberg with a dewy-eyed nod back to earlier events that reminded me a little of that on-the-nose smile towards the end of The Dark Knight Rises – but it’s needle in a haystack stuff. This is Spielberg at his best. This is Hanks at his best. A Cold War nail-biter with the guns to spark a revival in character-led thrillers.
Director: Steven Spielberg; Screenwriters: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Matt Charman; Starring: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, John Scott Shephard, Amy Ryan, Sebastian Koch; Running time: 141 minutes; Certification: 12A