Steven Spielberg plus Tom Hanks plus a Cold War thriller based on actual events?
Sign me up in a big way. “Bridge of Spies” is movie-making at its best: human, subtle, gripping, and visually just stunning. It has tremendous, thought-provoking heart, something sorely lacking in most movies these days.
The story follows the case of accused Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (played by Mark Rylance) and the honorable attorney chosen to defend him, James Donovan (Hanks).
It’s a delicate story that deftly shows the tension between 1950s nuclear hysteria and the most American of all ideals: due process for all. (While watching, one can’t help but ponder the constitutional issues of habeas corpus and due process concerning enemy combatants during the Bush administration. It’s an interesting comparison; one in which the viewer can ultimately decide for themselves how valid it is.)
As Hanks defends Abel successfully, meaning that Abel was not given the death penalty for his espionage and merely a 30-year prison sentence. But when an American spy is captured in Soviet territory, Donovan is called upon again to negotiate the swap between the two – the only problem is that the negotiations will take place in East Berlin behind the newly constructed Berlin Wall.
The movie’s landscape is fascinating. The recreation of the construction of the wall and the remaining WWII destruction in East Berlin a good 12 years after the end of the war hits the viewers hard, as the mild-mannered Donovan has to head into the heart of the enemy without escort or assurance.
Spielberg once again shows his mastery of human drama and the small symbolic touches along the way are both lovely and meaningful. Hanks is terrific, and the touching ending was satisfying and emotional, as his kids and wife come to realize what he had been fighting for and why he put his family in danger.
The one character I simply couldn’t take my eyes off of was Mark Rylance. He gave an amazing, understated performance. There was so much life behind all the expressions which were greatly restrained. That’s not easily accomplished, but he was extraordinary.
When Hollywood gets it right, go give them your money. This is a wonderful story and important message. I highly recommend it.