The prospect of seeing Steven Spielberg sink his teeth into the Cold War is an enticing one indeed, but although Bridge of Spies contains a couple of tense set-pieces, it is much more focused on being a character drama than a period thriller.
Bifurcated almost exactly in two, the first half of the film follows Hanks’ civilian lawyer James Donovan as he is assigned to defend accused Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance). The second half follows Donovan to East Berlin, where he attempts to negotiate the exchange of Abel for a downed American airman.
Although handsomely mounted (the muted ’50s technicolour aesthetic is particularly appealing) and populated by subtle performances, both sections of the film suffer from Spielberg’s characters’ tendency to repeatedly articulate the themes explored by the film.
Lacking any discernible shades of grey, Donovan is as pure a picture of Hanksian decency as there has ever been. Rylance’s intense stillness renders Abel somewhat unknowable, but he affects tangible chemistry with Donovan.
A noticeably male-centric film, the female characters here have very little to do. As Donovan’s wife, Amy Ryan serves up food and furrows her brow. Eve Hewson (Bono’s daughter!) commands the camera as Donovan’s teenage daughter, but only has about three scenes.
Although there’s a broadness to the proceedings betrayed by the painfully generic title, Spielberg’s fundamental skills as a director keep Bridge of Spies afloat.
‘Bridge of Spies’ Movie Times
Want more Cold War goodness? Try: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Dr. Strangelove, The Lives of Others