Period film: Bridge of Spies (2015)

Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) has been found out. A Cold War is raging, and the FBI has determined that he is a spy. After evidence of such is found in his small, rented Brooklyn apartment, he is prosecuted.

Abel’s suspected spy status does not eliminate his right to a fair trial — especially when such a trial will stop the Soviet Union from taking advantage of the situation for anti-United States propaganda. So, someone must defend Abel.

(Image via Wikimedia Commons)

(Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Enter James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks), a lawyer who usually handles insurance settlements. Abel agrees to accept Donovan’s help, though he remains unwilling to give up any secrets of his espionage.

Bridge of Spies tells the story of Donovan’s efforts to truly give Abel a fair trial, despite the fact that everyone (from the prosecution, to the public, to even his own boss and family) expects him to put together a weak defense. The film was directed by Steven Spielberg from a script by Matt Charman, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen.

I’ll cut right to the chase: I loved Bridge of Spies. A lot of people think of this as “Your grandpa’s favorite movie of the year,” but I walked out of the theater knowing that it would land on my own list of new-release favorites for the year. It’s deliberately paced, like a classic drama (which certainly contributed to my love of it), and very well-constructed.

The story doesn’t fall on the extreme end of the suspense spectrum, but is very engaging. It keeps a solid grip on the viewer’s attention and emotions, making for an impactful, thought-provoking film. Historical liberties are taken, but it is a Hollywood film, after all; “inspired by a true story” can be translated to “we found an interesting historical event to make a movie about, but we want to add our own story to it.”

A top-notch performance is given by Tom Hanks, one of the finest actors of his generation. He is perfectly cast in the role of Donovan, an honest man who stays true to what is right despite the fact that the entire country turns on him for providing Abel with a good defense.

The supporting cast is great as well, with not a weak performance in the bunch. One small part particularly impressive to me was the man playing the Soviet commissioner. Something about his performance reminded me of Peter Lorre! (I believe the actor’s name is Mikhail Gorevoy, but didn’t make note of his character’s name other than “Soviet commissioner” and have had trouble tracking down the name. So, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.)

(Image via Orlando Sentinel)

(Image via Orlando Sentinel)

Though Hanks gives a great performance and all of the supports are solid as well, Bridge of Spies really belongs to Mark Rylance, in my book. I was glad to see him win the Oscar. He does a stellar job of portraying Abel as a man who the audience can sympathize with, despite his Cold War spy crimes. Knowing nothing about the real case, I was half-expecting him to be tortured, convicted, and tossed in the electric chair (and I once again feared for his life on the bridge), but I really, really didn’t want him to die. If you’re watching the film in the United States, technically he is an “enemy” since he is a spy, but the film doesn’t demonize him. The respectful bond that grows between Abel and Donovan was another of my favorite aspects of the film. Rylance’s performance is subtle but has a great impact on the viewer, and now, a couple of months after watching, is the thing that has stuck with me the most from the film.

Classic film fans will enjoy Bridge of Spies, a film not only set in the midcentury but also somewhat reminiscent of classic wartime/courtroom dramas.

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8 thoughts on “Period film: Bridge of Spies (2015)

  1. Keisha says:

    Great review, I agree with everything you said here. This is my favorite of Spielberg’s films from this decade so far, and maybe even since Catch Me If You Can.

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  2. realthog says:

    I too was surprised by how very much I enjoyed this movie; and, like you, I think it belongs to Rylance and was delighted by his Oscar. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, in a few years’ time when I’ll probably have forgotten most of the details of the movie, even what it’s actually about, I’m guessing I’ll still remember the feel of Rylance’s performance.

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    • Lindsey says:

      I’m still puzzled at how anyone could say he didn’t deserve the award, unless they didn’t watch the film at all (in which case, they have no room to talk).

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  3. Julia says:

    I love this movie for the same reasons you mention. It does have a classic movie vibe to it; it takes some visual cues from film noir, too. The cinematography in the scene where Hanks is followed in the rain and the climactic bridge scene reminded me of The Third Man.

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  4. Todd Benefiel says:

    We definitely agree on this one! Without a doubt my favorite film of last year…but I’m still puzzled by the fact that Hanks and Spielberg weren’t nominated for Academy Awards for their stellar (as usual) work. Glad that Rylance won, though.

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    • Lindsey says:

      It’s on my favorites list as well for 2015, though I haven’t put together an “official” ranking for the year, haha. I’m kind of surprised it didn’t get more nominations, too. But congratulations to Rylance, that award was well-deserved!

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