Starring: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda
Directed by: Steven Spielberg (“War Horse”)
Written by: Matt Charman (“Suite Francaise”), Ethan Coen (“True Grit”) and Joel Coen (“Inside Llewyn Davis”)
Bringing Oscar winners like director Steven Spielberg, actor Tom Hanks and the screenwriting duo of Joel and Ethan Coen together feels like the producers of the Cold War drama/thriller “Bridge of Spies” are just showing off. While the combination of Spielberg and Hanks hasn’t always been a perfect pairing the last three times out (“The Terminal” is still one of Spielberg’s weakest films), odds will always be in their favor based on talent alone. With “Bridge of Spies,” Spielberg delivers some solid, mature storytelling that rarely wavers. It might be one of those second-tier Spielberg films that really won’t make or break any kind of legacy he has built throughout his career (think “War Horse” and “Amistad”), but even Spielberg on autopilot is pretty damn good.
As a history lesson on espionage during the Cold War, Spielberg and company keep the tension high and the story at a level that won’t go over too many heads (unlike other recent spy thrillers like “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” and “A Wanted Man,” which might take a couple of viewings to let all the nuances sink in). In “Bridge of Spies,” Hanks plays James Donovan, an American insurance lawyer who is called upon to defend British-born Soviet spy Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance), who has just been captured by the CIA. James takes the case, although he knows there will be a lot of baggage that comes with it. How is he supposed to defend someone when the American judicial system and the court of public opinion have already condemned the man? James’ responsibilities become more complicated when an American pilot and an American student are taken prisoner in the Soviet Union and the CIA asks him to take the lead in a prisoner exchange with the enemy. These backroom dealings are straight to the point and make for some entertaining and thought-provoking scenes.
“Bridge of Spies” asks important, timely questions about how the U.S. has handled war criminals throughout history, but never preaches to the audience with political statements or underlying messages. It plays out like a theatrical production would in the Situation Room. The dialogue is palpable and it’s easy to hang onto every word James and Rudolph speak. It’s this relationship between these two characters that, while spending only a few scenes together, feels like there’s actually something important everyone is fighting for.