Urban Cinefile
"Working with him was heaven.just heaven. We share the same sense of humour - very blue! "  -Judi Dench on Billy Connolly
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Saturday February 1, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



SYNOPSIS: American insurance lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks) is recruited by the CIA during the Cold War to negotiate a swap of Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) for US pilot (Francis Gary Powers) captured and jailed by the Soviet Union after his U-2 spy plane was shot down. (Inspired by a true story)

Review by Louise Keller:
Tom Hanks' innate sense of decency shines through in Steven Spielberg's espionage thriller in which a war of principles takes place. Set in the late 50s during the Cold War and based on real events, the three story strands involving a Soviet Spy, an American Pilot and an American economics student are intricately plaited by British playwright/TV writer Matt Charman and polished by the Coen brothers, to seamlessly deliver a slow-burning tale filled with understatement. It's a wonderful screenplay filled with nuances and pauses, allowing the tension to build slowly as Spielberg orchestrates the grand strokes of the drama.

It's an intelligent and thoroughly engrossing film, filled with the delicate questions that society faces about morality and strength of character. The joys of the film are numerous, beginning with the careful establishment of the two key characters: James Donovan (Hanks), the insurance claims lawyer from Brooklyn enlisted by the American government as defence lawyer and Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), the Soviet agent working as an artist in New York. They may be very different men, but they share one thing: integrity. Watch out for the scene in the jail during the trial, when Abel tells Donovan about a man of whom he reminds him. It's a pivotal moment and one that offers emotional ballast later on.

Rylance makes understatement into an art form with wry responses and minimalist reactions. We know little about Abel except for what we see: a meticulous man who acts according to his moral code. Similarly, Donovan, who epitomises everyman and the perfect family man, shows what he is made of, beginning with his thorough defence of Abel. He does this to the utmost of his ability, not simply a token attempt as is expected - by the colleagues, family and all of America. But there is a cost - to family, firm and to himself. The unspoken bond that develops between Donovan and Abel is the emotional glue.

The narrative shifts decisively with the introduction of the other two story strands involving the respective incarcerations of American pilot Gary Powers' (Austin Stowell) on a stealth mission and Berlin based American student Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers) when he illegally enters East Berlin, as the infamous wall is being built.

Donovan's recruitment by the CIA to negotiate a prisoner swap arrangement and his subsequent trip to East Berlin is the beginning of the climactic swell, when tensions explode and character traits are put to the test. Sebastian Koch (The Lives of Others, Black Book) is perfectly cast as the mysterious Vogel, while Scott Shepherd is convincing as the frustrated CIA agent left on the sidelines as Donovan makes his own assessments of the situation, wrinkles and all.

With the exception of one beautifully performed and delivered cat and mouse New York scene at night in teeming rain, offering humour as a surprise package, most of the film plays out in words: in the courtroom, in offices and hotel rooms. This is far from bland, and goes to show that the power of words can equally deliver bullets. Effective and satisfying bullets. The production design is immaculate, while Thomas Newman's solid, booming score emphasises the traditional nature of Spielberg's storytelling.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Whether absolutely accurate in all details or not, Bridge of Spies is certainly truthful to the events and moral dilemmas posed by them in the infamous U-2 spy plane scandal at the height of the cold war. Steven Spielberg has made a remarkably well crafted and engaging film from the fine screenplay, superbly cast and beautifully executed.

Tom Hanks carries the film with his decency and trustworthiness, as the mild mannered, steel spined American lawyer whose moral compass is beyond question. Even though his character, lawyer James Donovan, was indeed so questioned. And calling out that moral selectivity displayed by many in America at the time, not least senior legal eagles, is what gives the film its power as a drama worth our time and interest.

Donovan asserts that only by sticking to the rules of law as they apply to all can America claim to be what it is, a nation worthy of honour and respect.

But the film is not a sermon on morality but a story of a man thrust into an exceptional situation who rises to the occasion, thanks not only to his legal background but to his strength of character. In that sense, this is a hero's journey, overcoming small and large obstacles, facing danger and failure, risking all to achieve something peacefully and without violence amidst a world poised to self destruct.

We are shown the precipice, and the mind set generated by it, as Donovan's little boy prepares a bath full of water in case of thermo-nuclear war.

There will no doubt be some who feel that the Russian spy Rudolf Abel (the splendid English actor Mark Rylance with the hint of a Scottish accent) is characterised as something of a saint, a hobby painter who is unperturbed and unafraid for his own future, responding with "Would it help?" when asked. It is Donovan who points out that far from being a traitor, Abel is a loyal citizen - if on the wrong side. There is plenty to discuss in this film ...

If casting is 80% of the director's job done, Spielberg was assured of success from the first day of shooting. Behind the camera, too, the entire crew bring their A game, delivering a film that has both scale and substance, exploring human nature through the prism of the Cold War and showing us both the good and the bad side of what we are.

Email this article

Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

(US, 2015)

CAST: Tom Hanks, Alan Alda, Peter McRobbie, Billy Magnussen, Eve Hewson, Amy Ryan, Austin Stowell, Mark Rylance

PRODUCER: Steven Spielberg, Kristie Macosko Krieger, Marc Platt

DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg

SCRIPT: Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen


EDITOR: Michael Kahn

MUSIC: Thomas Newman


RUNNING TIME: 135 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 22, 2015

Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020