A Movie Review
of Bridge of Spies (2015)
By Lance Zedric
Espionage. The KGB. The CIA. And Tom Hanks. Director Steven Spielberg’s foray into the shadowy, clandestine world of Cold War spying set in New York City and in pre-wall Berlin, had all the elements of a Hollywood blockbuster for the ages. But Bridge of Spies, the true story of captured Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), and his American attorney, James Donovan (Tom Hanks), who facilitated a swap with the Russians for captured American U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers, failed to deliver the scorching cinematic heat that Cold War aficionados had been anticipating.
Although highly entertaining, very well acted, and a welcome glimpse into a relatively obscure topic, the cinematography was the single most significant detractor to the movie. Spielberg and crew used harsh lighting and gritty exposures to recapture the tension of the Cold War, and in typical fashion, shot much of the film in Poland, Germany, and New York to convey the drab existence of life behind the Berlin wall. To that end it was successful.
But while the artsy fartsy technique at times was effective, its excessive use diminished the film to a degree. At times, the manufactured glare was so bright that it washed out the characters completely. For anyone who lived during that era, spent any time under their school desk during a nuclear bomb drill, enjoyed the intimacy of Checkpoint Charlie, or shared in the happy-go-lucky gait of paranoid East Berliners surviving under the oppressive yoke of Soviet hegemony, didn’t need special effects to understand the tension. But given that most moviegoers under 50 would not have experienced the joys of being detained by the Stasi (German State Police), it’s understandable why it was done.
Tom Hanks was his usual outstanding self and displayed the “every man” acting quality that has left him perched atop the Hollywood food chain for over 20 years. Rylance, an accomplish Shakespearean actor, was superb as Rudolf Abel. His portrayal was eerie good and recently earned him a Best Supporting Actor award at the Oscars.
At the end of the day, Bridge of Spies is a solid movie supported by an outstanding director and cast. Unfortunately, the film was in and out of the theaters so quickly that people had difficulty finding it, and thus, was relegated to DVD hell, where the emotional impact of a movie is often less dramatic than when experienced in a crowded theater. Or maybe the public has finally put the Cold War to rest and has tired of it. The modern, younger audience appears unfazed by the threat of nuclear war between superpowers, and isn’t threatened by a communist hiding in every corner. And why would it be when foreign and homegrown suicide bombers are walking the streets of downtown USA? Today’s world seems more dangerous, but the Cold War battles covertly waged all over the world from 1945-1991, were just as lethal. Fortunately, Bridge of Spies and movies like it, help us remember that. 8.5 out of 10 stars.