Bridge of Spies
dir Steven Spielberg
scr Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
prd Steven Spielberg, Kristie Macosko Krieger, Marc Platt
with Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Sebastian Koch, Alan Alda, Austin Stowell, Will Rogers, Scott Shepherd, Eve Hewson, Billy Magnussen, Jesse Plemons, Mikhail Gorevoy
release US 16.Oct.15, UK 27.Nov.15
15/US DreamWorks 2h21
Bridge of Spies
Defending the devil: Rylance and Hanks

ryan koch alda
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Bridge of Spies With its stately pace and underlying sentimentality, this feels like a vintage Cold War thriller. At least it approaches the story with some moral complexity, refusing to insist that all Russians are bad guys. Based on a true story, the events are fascinating, even if Spielberg directs it without much spark.

In 1957 New York, lawyer James Donovan (Hanks) is hired to represent accused Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Rylance). At the trial, no one's remotely interested in finding the truth or following the rule of law. They want a conviction. Then a few years later, American spy-plane pilot Powers (Stowell) is shot down over Russia, and James is drafted in by the CIA to negotiate a swap: Powers for Abel. But James also wants to free a young American grad student (Rogers) wrongfully detained in East Berlin as the wall was being built.

Spielberg's elegant direction lets the story unfold without forced intensity. Although the production design pushes buttons with its comfy late-1950s America contrasted with Berlin's iced-over squalor. Thankfully, the screenplay (cowritten by the Coen brothers) stirs in plenty of sparky humour, primarily in James' off-handed dialog, which Hanks delivers with impeccable timing. And alongside some subtle plot points and clever moments of triumph or despair, the film works overtime to stir up a sense of patriotic integrity.

Hanks can play all of these shades without really trying, and he adds terrific texture to the negotiations. Likeable and tenacious, James is more concerned with doing the right thing than with making anyone happy, and it's hard not to see him as a sort of idealised politician for our narrow-minded partisan times. The surrounding characters are less developed, although Rylance registers strongly with his deadpan honesty and insight. And Ryan has some strong scenes of her own, even if her character seems to exist outside the story.

Despite its slightly overpowering period design, the film has strong resonance in themes that are still hot today, mainly in the clash between Eastern and Western styles of government and security. Wisely, Spielberg avoids making the Russians into snarling villains, instead casting the Cold War as more of an intense culture clash with world-ending potential. By depicting but never indulging in the rabid attitudes of the time, the film instead begins to heal those wounds. And perhaps offer hope that someday we'll be able to put our own contentious times behind us.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 26.Oct.15

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