I can’t be sure, but I feel as if “Bridge of Spies” is the sort of movie that would benefit from being seen twice, both because of the complicated plot and because it was just that good. The movie, based on a true story, stars Tom Hanks as insurance lawyer-turned defense attorney James B. Donovan.
As a favor to his legal partners who want to show the public that everyone in the U.S. is given a fair trial, Donovan has taken on the task of defending accused Soviet spy Rudolf Abel. This decision is fraught with consequences for both his professional and personal lives.
Meanwhile, an Air Force pilot working for the CIA has been captured by the Soviets and an American student studying in Germany is stuck on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall. Over the course of the film, Donovan is thrust into the role of negotiator as he tries to juggle the lives of these three men in his hands.
Director Steven Spielberg is no stranger to historical dramas, and it’s easy to imagine that with so many films under his belt, his latest work could come off as a little stale. However, “Bridge of Spies” is a ride from start to finish, with enough suspense to keep someone like myself who knows very little about the Cold War interested. I’d already had some plot points spoiled by my dad, who knows anything and everything there is to know about aviation history (The CIA pilot’s name was Francis Gary Powers and if you want to know literally everything about him, give my dad a call). Still, the suspenseful scenes kept me on the edge of my seat with one eye covered, muttering “oh my God” under my breath. There’s not much I can say without giving the story away, but one or two scenes in particular had me holding my breath for a solid minute without even realizing it.
Tom Hanks is brilliant as ever and totally believable as the hypercompetent but still utterly normal and dryly funny Donovan. He’s likable — a good dad, a loving husband and the kind of guy you’d want defending you if you were accused of being a communist spy. He goes from negotiating the return of the American citizens to calling his wife and convincing her he’s on a fishing trip in the same scene and does so seamlessly. The script’s humor comes courtesy of Joel and Ethan Coen, who each had a hand in writing it. Their signature of finding comedy in the mundane fits perfectly in a movie that requires some comic relief.
Outside Tom Hanks’ performance, Mark Rylance is breathtaking in his portrayal of Rudolf Abel. His version of a polite older man showing the upmost dignity in the face of imprisonment and possible execution brings a heaping dose of humanity to the caricature of the “evil communist spy” that was once so common. His calmness confuses Donovan at first, and the lawyer constantly brings up the fact that Abel doesn’t show any fear or concern about his future. Abel’s response, “Would it help?” sums him up perfectly. As Donovan points out, Abel is working for what he genuinely believes in, whatever that may be, and Donovan grows to deeply respect him for it.
To say “Bridge of Spies” is Oscar-worthy would be an understatement. It has all the classic requirements: Tom Hanks, a script with a basis in history, Steven Spielberg at the helm and superb acting. Even if it doesn’t rake in the awards, though, it’s destined to go down as a classic.