Film Review: Bridge of Spies

In association with the Grosvenor

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If the last Cold War-era film you saw was Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and you found it disappointing at best, the latest Spielberg-Hanks team-up might make you rethink your attachment to the genre. In Bridge of Spies, Hanks resumes his by now typecast role as the ever-morally-superior servant of the nation embedded with patriotic duty as James Donovan, an unexpectedly heroic insurance lawyer who, armed only with a semi-religious reverence for the Constitution and his boundless righteousness, endeavours to give accused Soviet spy Rudolf Abel a fair shot at the justice system.

Bridge of Spies is loaded with the standard gag-inducing American rhetoric and doesn’t lack the packaged monologues on “what makes us American” that Hollywood likes to spew, but is paradoxically laced with cynicism about the American judicial proceedings. In his portrayal of James Donovan (the embodiment of lawful good itself), Hanks is refreshingly unobnoxious; he delivers an enviably deadpan performance, rich with his trademark chucklesome wit and bewildered derision, and effortlessly wins the viewer’s doting. Spielberg’s commentary on “everybody [being] in everybody else’s bananas” makes a point not to downplay the hysteria of the Red Scare and the irrationality invoked, never missing an opportunity to critique the government’s fallacies and unconstitutional dealings.

Aesthetically, the cinematography shifts from ideologically frenzied New York to snow-clad and divided Berlin without a stutter, with the most engaging moment being the walling up of the city’s two sectors that cogently separates loved ones. But maybe more interesting than the relationships between characters is that between different national identities, which Spielberg less overtly gives his two cents on. The trial that is the film’s showpiece is paralleled artfully with the more grandiose affair faced by captured pilot Gary Powers at the hands of Khrushchev’s adjutants, and the exaggerated idiosyncrasies of German and Soviet officials can be forgiven because they don’t outshine American ones in their negativity. And maybe most captivatingly, Mark Rylance’s enactment of the captured Soviet spy – constantly shrugging off Donovan’s concerns with a resigned “would it help?”, and really just keen to paint – could eke sympathy out of the most emotionally dead of us.

[Tasha Baldassarre]

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