Posted Dec 08 2015

Bridge Of Spies - This Movie Rocks The Cold War Like No Other

Dir: Steven Spielberg

Starring Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Austin Stowell, Alan Alda, Scott Shepherd, Amy Ryan

We here at lastword were lucky enough to see Bridge Of Spies tonight at a special BAFTA screening to which Spielberg and Hanks showed up afterwards to run the room. During which Tom displayed his Sully hairdo, Spielberg explained his relationship with editor Michael Kahn, and some heavily Euro-accented guy during the Q and A was at pains to let Spielberg know how his movies had profoundly changed his life – “even Always. Even Hook!” – which drew a huge laugh from everyone else, and even a wry smile from the bearded one himself.

We’re telling you this in the interests of transparency. Just so you know that we weren’t in any way influenced by having these two utterly charming men trying to win votes in the room.

Now that that’s clear – Bridge Of Spies is quite brilliant. Both men are not so much back on form (when are they ever off? Yes, we’re ignoring Crystal Skull) as back on the top of the their game. It never ceases to amaze us how Spielberg’s has such an ability to change his style and still retain his form. Compare any Indy movie (ignore Crystal Skull) to Minority Report to see what we’re saying here. Here he is in Cold War territory but, as he said himself tonight, focusing on the notion of conversation between individuals, rather than the flashy camera work and dark lit noir alleys he might have favoured. The Spy Who Came In From The Cold was name-checked, but also gently dismissed here. What we have instead is a huge piece of history played on a level of small-scale humanity. Again, if you fancy comparison, contrast this with something like Empire Of The Sun. What counts here is character, most importantly the moral character of Hanks’ Jim Donovan. And of course who could be better to play the moral everyman than that bloke from Splash? Hanks relishes this role, offering more subtlety and humour than the script could have implied, bringing his stature to the role of a small man initially. But a “standing man.”

The movie breaks down into a tale of two halves – insurance lawyer Donovan is all but forced into defending Rylance’s alleged Russian spy Rudolph Abel, more a show for the American public than it is a real example of the Constitution in action.

But after that case is lost, Donovan finds himself caught up in the case of Francis Gary Powers, the American spy plane pilot who was shot down and captured by the Russians, and then negotiated in trade for Abel.

It’s a game of super power cat and mouse with Hanks refusing to blink first. And it’s absolutely riveting. What surprises though is also how humorous it is. There’s humanity and laughs on display here, as well as deeply affecting drama, beautifully played – not just by Hanks – but by a perfectly chosen supporting cast. (Full marks – as ever – to casting director Ellen Lewis and co.) Everyone here is completely right and real in their role, but then again they are working from a fine, fine script from Matt Charman and a certain couple of brothers by the name of Coen, whose dialogue appears at times to both stand out and blend in perfectly.

Rylance provides a fantastic supporting turn, but, by virtue of screen time alone, it’s very much a supporting turn. This is Hanks’ movie in terms of performance and one the man latches onto with the most delicate of baby teeth but never ever lets go of. Couple that with Spielberg controlling his elements with such incredible finesse and you have easily one of the year’s best.

Who knows? With an awards season already rife with a mixture of “love the performance, not so much the film," “great but not great” and "yeah, but it tanked at the box office" (yes, Jobs, we mean you sadly), Bridge Of Spies could be the one to sneak in under the radar (appropriate metaphor for a spy plane movie.) It would certainly be deserving.


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