At this stage is it even a debatable anymore, if Steven Spielberg is the greatest director of all time? I mean has any other director made so many films, that are so beloved by some many people. A new Spielberg movie is an event and considering his age, we are not sure how many more events we will get to see, so we better enjoy them while we can.
Sometime in the last decade or so, Spielberg decided to take a detour from his action packed popcorn extravagances and focus on some more human stories, that took place throughout history. Think War Horse(2011) about a boy and his horse during WW1, Lincoln (2012) about the greatest American President’s fight for the 13th Amendment or Munich (2005) about the Terrorist attacks during the Germany Olympics. He now continues that trend with Bridge of Spies a Cold War thriller about an unsung American Hero who helped bridge the gap between the Soviet Union and American politicians.
The man in question is New York lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks) who is recruited by the FBI to defend a Russian spy that has been captured named Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance). Donovan takes his job very seriously and much to the annoyance of the FBI and the American public, he tries to give Rudolf a fair trail, to make sure he doesn’t wrongfully get the death penalty. Donovan thinks he can be used for negations later on.
While these courtroom scenes are taking place, we also get scenes involving a special US lead spy team of pilots, being trained to take pictures of the Soviet Union in advance jets the US has designed. Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stonewell) is the first of the group to take the jet out. He is shot down almost instantly be Soviet forces and is captured upon hitting the ground.
We also see the story of a young American economics graduate named Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers), who is visiting his German girlfriend in East Berlin, at the same time the Berlin wall is being built. He tries to taker her to West Berlin, but is stopped by German officers and arrested as a spy.
Donovan now finds himself the man who is negotiating the release of both Powers and and Pryor in exchange for the safe return of Abel to the USSR. Talking to parties from all 3 hustle nations and trying to come to an agreement that works for everyone.
This is old fashioned film making at its finest. Spielberg clearly inspired by La Carre and Capa, somehow is able to effortlessly transition the film from a court room drama to a espionage thriller, without even blinking an eye or letting the audience know. It just happens and you are left amazed at how once again you have been played by the master.
As per usual with a Spielberg movie everything in the film is nearly flawless. The script by Matt Charman and polished off by The Coen Brothers is tight and smart, never leaving any room for needless plot details. The score by Thomas Newman perfectly captures the mood and atmosphere of the 60s when the film takes place, as does the wonderful production design. You really feel like you are leaving in that era.
However the standout here is the wonderful cinematography by Janusz Kamiński. Take the opening shot of the movie, a brilliant sequence showing us Abel’s arrest. The camera just perfectly follows Abel around town with expert shots of the men following his every move. Its a superb sequence that is classic Spielberg and should be added to his already stacked highlight reel.
The acting is all around good with Rylance stealing the show as the Soviet spy who is just doing the job that is asked of him by his country. Rylance plays Abel as a cool and collected man, who is to old to really care about his fate anymore. Hanks is his usual understated self, which is something we all likely take advantage of by know but we shouldn’t forget just how good he is.
Bride of Spies is another triumph for Spielberg adding to an already masterful career. At this age he is making the movies that he wants to make and is clearly having a lot of fun doing so. He is telling parts of history that may not be so well known to us anymore, giving them and their heroes a voice and hopefully shedding light on some of the lesser known icons of history. Bridge of Spies is one of the best movies of 2015.