Bridge of Spies is perhaps the best film I have watched in 2015. It can be added to the list of Steven Spielberg classics. It is a film that will gather momentum in the lead up to awards season. Spielberg is no stranger to this period in European history and the American influence within it. Despite the magnificent Lincoln (2012), War Horse (2011) and Catch Me If You Can (2002) this is undoubtedly the best movie Spielberg has directed since Saving Private Ryan (1998).
Bridge of Spies captures the Cold War aggression of 1957. James Donovan (Tom Hanks) is given little choice but to represent Rudolf Abel, a suspected Russian spy played by Mark Rylance. Donovan risks his reputation as an insurance lawyer in New York City to be seen to give the hated spy a “fair” trial. But little did he know that the trial would lead him and his family into danger as the American public disagreed with Donovan’s willingness to conduct a fair trial. Inspired by true events Donovan is flown to Berlin, a city torn in half by America and Russia, to conduct an exchange of prisoners.
Tom Hanks delivers a terrific performance as his character is torn between the integrity of his profession and the national security concerns of those around him. Hanks has undertaken a number of meaty roles of late, none more so than as Captain Phillips. Although he is unlikely to be rewarded for yet another assured Hanks performance he is the vital linchpin that pulls the strands of the story together. Mark Rylance delivers a truly compelling performance given his repetitively repressed on-screen career. Regarded as the greatest stage actor of his generation Rylance delivers physical and facial gestures which allow us to become sympathetic towards his plight. He is a man of few words – powerful yet they are – there is nothing quite like the closing bridge scene. His mysteriousness is inviting mirroring the spy ideals developed in John Le Carre’s Tinker Tailor Solider Spy. His integrity is noble but damn right stupid and it is because of this we feel a debt of gratitude to writers and director for not playing American Top Trumps with this character.
Bridge of Spies is visually stunning. The camera moves wonderfully across the set as expected from Spielberg disciples Janusz Kaminski (Cinematographer) and Michael Kahn (Editor). The scenes which take place in Berlin are the best you will see onscreen in 2015. It was truly magical. As a cinema goer who likes to block out everything in the cinema I felt (as you should do) like I was with Mr Donovan in Berlin. Not all films can claim to have this gift. Written by Joel and Ethan Coen the dialogue is beautifully balanced, as you’d expect from the Coen brothers. The silences are just as vital as the dialogue itself – none more so than the tense closing bridge scene.
The brief sequence where Donovan travels by train from East to West Berlin whilst witnessing Berliners attempting to climb the newly erected Berlin Wall is jaw-dropping. The film’s success comes down to the destruction of the imaginary wall between blockbuster and clever art house cinema. Bridge of Spies perfectly balances the blockbuster style storytelling elements with the political goings of the Cold War and the visual beauty. It caters for all movie-goers in the same way Inception does: clever enough to attract the movie geeks without polluting the film for the late night popcorn lover.
The film’s authenticity is displayed in the opening scene: a largely silent sequence which allows you to settle into the comfort of Spielberg’s set. There is never a moment in which the actors are in not complete control of the film. Rarely is there a moment to delve into your popcorn for the suspense, fraught dangers and compelling story-telling.