I’m going to be honest here and admit I did not know “Bridge of Spies” was a Steven Spielberg film before the credits rolled at the end of the film. As soon as I saw the famed director’s name though, it all made sense. Spielberg films perfectly walk the line between thrilling and comforting — and “Bridge of Spies” is no different. The film, starring Spielberg favorite Tom Hanks, takes on a small (but important) story in America’s history with heartwarming humor and provides us all with a reassuring look at the many faces bravery can take on.
“Bridge of Spies” is the “based on true events” tale of James B. Donovan, an insurance lawyer who is called to serve his country when he is asked to defend accused Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance). It’s a job no one wants — the country’s extreme distaste for anything Soviet related means defending Abel is equivalent to treason — but Donovan gladly takes on the case, citing that every man brought to trial deserves due process. As Abel’s trial moves forward, a separate story involving the CIA’s new spy plane technology comes into play. The two stories meet when an American pilot is captured after his spy plane is shot down while on a mission over Soviet territory. Donovan is sent to East Berlin to negotiate the return of the American pilot, in exchange for his client, Abel.
Aesthetically, “Bridge of Spies” is a dark film. The film plays out in dimly lit offices, the frozen streets of Soviet Russia, and a decent amount of prison cells. What’s so great about the film’s dark cinematography is that it lulls you in to unexpected humor and tender interactions between certain characters that really shines through. For a movie about one of America’s darkest moments in time, there were a decent amount of laughs. It is refreshing to see a historical film that seems to really take some time to focus on comedic writing and timing. Much of this is due in part to the brilliance of Tom Hanks, but his performance would not have worked had the film not decided to balance out its darkness with a little bit of light.
Another area where the film succeeds is its take on the Cold War’s defining characteristic: intelligence gathering. As the film notes, the Cold War was a war of information rather than one built on human sacrifice. There are no large battle scenes to be played out in a bloody, glorified mess — instead, the war takes place on a much smaller, intimate scale. Battles scenes are replaced by intense conversations in back offices and sketchy hotel rooms — and the effects of this war seem to take on a new meaning without the physicality of war to emphasize it. Between Donovan’s interactions with his family, the close relationship he develops with his client Abel, and his dedication to bringing home an American soldier, the film really brings the idea of “war” down a notch, making a hero of Donovan without trying to hard to do so.
With Oscars on the brain, I think it is safe to say that “Bridge of Spies” will be garnering at least a couple of nominations — historical films are always a hit and this one has all the tell-tale signs that it will be celebrated as such. What’s even better is it has real entertainment value. Besides, what could be better than two hours spent with Tom Hanks?