Bridge of Spies (2015)

IN THE SHADOW OF WAR, ONE MAN SHOWED THE WORLD WHAT WE STOOD FOR.

An American lawyer is recruited by the CIA during the Cold War to help rescue a pilot detained in the Soviet Union.

It’s been a busy week for Cinema visits so far and quick on the heels of Black Mass (and a potential upcoming visit to see Spectre) came a trip in which I braved the pouring rain for Bridge of Spies, Steven Spielberg’s first film since 2012’s Lincoln, and starring Tom Hanks in what turned out to be one of the best films of the year.

Bridge of Spies is a true-story inspired Cold War epic that looks at an American Lawyer (Tom Hanks) who was recruited by the CIA during the Cold War to help rescue a pilot detained in the Soviet Union. The Lawyer himself, James Donavan, had previously become the most hated man in America for preventing the Death Sentence of a captured Russian spy, only limiting him to time served in prison. Shots had been fired at Donavan’s home, and the atmosphere was pretty tense as everyone wanted to see the spy dead. The spy is played by Mark Rylance, the always calm Rudolf Abel. Donavan’s prevention of Abel’s death allowed the possibility of a prisoner exchange between the captured fighter pilot and the spy, but there’s a couple of problems. The exchange is to take place in East Berlin, where the Berlin Wall is in progress of being constructed, and an American student studying Communism was recently captured after being caught on the wrong side of the newly built Wall, complicating things with the East Germans who want Abel for the student. The Russians (and the Americans) want Abel for the Pilot. And so a game of high stakes negotiation begins between the nations involved in the crisis.

The cinematography is amazing. Every scene feels and looks amazing with the incredible atmosphere created. Having the film set at winter allows for several chilling sequences that really work, as Spielberg gets the period drama tone right and you really find yourself immersed in the setting. He also learns a lesson from War Horse and makes it a lot more interesting than the 2011 film, with the pace being smoothed out to create a well rounded drama that doesn’t feel too long at all.

Joel and Ethan Coen worked on the script for Bridge of Spies (along with Matt Charman) and you can easily see their involvement. There are several humorous moments to the film that work despite the bleak nature, and they even bring along Jesse Plemons (who stars in one of the best shows of the year, Fargo, which also has the Coen’s involvement, as Ed Blomquist, the Butcher) in a minor role. The performances all work out superbly well, Hanks kills it as Donavan, but also Eve Hewson, Austin Stowell, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda and more all put in strong performances in their roles (however brief). It’s the perfect balance of good performances and good directing so that one does not outshadow the other, and allows for a tone that really works.

Feeling in tune with the old classic spy movies, closer to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (which is equally good) than the James Bond flicks, Bridge of Spies works well as a new  and memorable addition to the genre in a year that has already seen some amazing spy films. The visuals are outstanding and the Coen Brothers and Matt Charman’s script is on top form as per usual. I wouldn’t be surprised if this film comes out at the Oscars at the end of this year, it’s just that good. A must see on the big screen.

VERDICT: 9/10

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