Didn’t give me that fizz
Bridge of Spies unites two of the heavyweights of Hollywood in the guise of Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. The film is based on the true story of American insurance lawyer James Donovan (Hanks) who is asked to ensure alleged Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) receives adequate representation at his trial. In parallel to this unfolding story Francis Powers (Austin Stowell) is flying high over foreign territory in a U2 spy plane when it is shot down and he is in turn convicted of espionage. The opposing forces see common reason to exchange prisoners and Donovan is asked to handle the negotiation in Berlin.
The movie majors on two topics; doing the right thing despite the threat of reprisal and asking if captured spies were traitors/enemies of the State or just soldiers doing their jobs. Hanks is cast as the every-man, a devout believer in defending the Constitution and due process in the face of overwhelming public opposition. He appears to find a nobility within Abel especially with his calm under pressure and describes him more than once as an honest soldier. How comfortable you feel with this relationship is up to you although I think it’s the one controversial element within this film.
I was left underwhelmed by Bridge of Spies predominantly because of the lack of tension throughout. The story plays out with such a sense of inevitability I didn’t feel that anything was at stake. There is little, if any, character development as each actor is another piece in the puzzle. Donovan is from an Irish background who played an unknown role in the Nuremberg trials while Abel was probably born in England but has a Scottish lilt. There’s a CIA agent whose name I can’t remember who I think we’re supposed to boo because he tries to stop Donovan from bringing back an American student at the same time as Powers.
To be fair the film is beautifully shot and Spielberg shows off his skill of the directing craft capturing the 1960’s on screen in a highly believable manner. Rylance gives the best performance as the understated Abel providing the odd moment of levity in an otherwise grey film.
When I first heard about this film I was quietly excited if such a thing is possible. The materiel the movie was based upon seemed exciting and of course it was pairing my favourite director with one of the most consistent actors in Hollywood. The outcome is not a bad one but for a film that at one point had Oscar contender stamped all over it I suspect its going to be a quiet ceremony come 2016. My rating 3/5.