Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies is to me this year’s version of The Imitation Game. I went into it anticipating a good wartime drama with strong performances, but never did I expect a home run that would definitely end up on my top 10 list for the year.
That’s how much I loved Bridge of Spies, a true story set in the paranoid Cold War era about a lawyer “chosen” by the US government to defend a suspected Russian spy. The lawyer is James Donovan (Tom Hanks) and the spy is Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), and I’m willing to bet now that both will be nominated for Academy Awards next year, with Rylance taking home the prize for Best Supporting Actor.
Award-worthy performances aside, Bridge of Spies is fantastic in every other way, a truly intriguing and fascinating story about a heroic man whose pivotal role in history has been largely forgotten. I don’t want to give away too much for those not familiar with Donovan, because one of the best things about this film for me was the experience of going on this strange and thrilling adventure with him.
Spielberg is the greatest cinematic storyteller in the world, and he proves it once again by making a deeply moving and inspirational film that can resonate with and be enjoyed by everyone.
To be honest, I was initially not that hyped to see the movie. Political intrigue, courtroom drama, Tom Hanks doing his usual thing, etc — it just didn’t seem that exciting to me. I thought it would be like another Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with the slow sensibilities of Spielberg’s previous film, Lincoln, meaning I would probably need a strong coffee beforehand to stay awake through the 141-minute running time.
Instead, Spielberg has crafted a surprisingly accessible film, one that perfectly captures the tit-for-tat and absurd posturing of the Cold War period while educating those less informed in a simple and non-condescending manner. And for those thinking it might be a contemplative (ie, boring) drama, think again, because something interesting is always happening on screen; the film is constantly moving along at just the right pace and neither feels rushed nor slow. It is rare for such a long film to feel like it’s the exact length it should be.
Credit must also go to screenwriters Matt Charman and my favourites, the Coen brothers, who somehow manage to tie together the various strands of the seemingly complex historical storyline with minimal confusion but without dumbing it down too much for more sophisticated audiences.
Contrary to what I thought it would be (judging from the title, poster, etc), Bridge of Spies is not a slick thriller full of twists and turns and clever dialogue. It was never aiming to be such a film. Rather, it is surprisingly funny, with that devilishly dark Coen brothers style I think is the most hilarious thing in the world. It is driven by well-developed characters, with even the minor ones leaving lasting impressions because of the way they’ve been written and/or the memorable performances. The tone is also masterfully controlled, light when it needs to be, heavy when it should be, and subtly “f@&@ yeah!” when it has to be done.
When it’s all said and done, Bridge of Spies isn’t going to be remembered as fondly as say Schindler’s List or even Saying Private Ryan, though it certainly belongs in the conversation of the top movies of 2015. I think it’s Spielberg’s best-directed film since 2002’s Minority Report.
5 stars out of 5!