Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks are always a winning combination as far as I’m concerned, and their work on Bridge of Spies just continues to confirm that for me. Using the true life story of the Abel-Powers incident, the pair take us behind the scenes of one of the major events of the Cold War.
Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance in a performance that won him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor) is a spy for the U.S.S.R. working in America. When he’s captured the government feels it’s very important to put on the face of an above-board trial and to be seen treating Abel with all the rights due him. As such he is assigned a high-profile lawyer in the form of James B. Donovan (Hanks), a man who is determined to do his job to the best of his abilities, and make sure his client gets the defence all men are due, not just what the people think is his due.
At the same time, we are introduced to the story of Air Force pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) who is recruited into the CIA to fly the U2 spy plane on photographing missions. On his first overflight, he is shot down and unable to destroy the plane or himself, falling into Russian hands.
The government sees an opportunity to conduct an exchange, Abel for Powers, but they can’t be seen to be negotiating this publicly, in case everything goes sideways. So Donovan finds himself on the way to Berlin, which is witness to the building of a new wall separating East and West Germany.
He’s there to sound out and negotiate the release of Powers in exchange for Abel but has also learned about a young economist who has been caught up in the calamities taking place in Berlin and works to find a way to save him as well.
Bridge of Spies is a brilliantly written and performed Cold War drama. It garnered nominations for six Oscar nominations, including Best Supporting Actor which it took as well as Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Score (Thomas Newman and not John Williams), Best Sound Mixing, and Best Production Design.
It’s an absolutely captivating film, and Spielberg brings a very strong visual eye to his storytelling. He does not spoon-feed his audience, he expects them to pay attention, and notice what is going on with characters, situations, and moments, and they all pay off wonderfully.
It also brings to life and gives a new perspective on how to look at the events of the time. This may, in fact, be my favourite film by Spielberg in recent years. I love all of his work, some more than others to be sure, but I really enjoyed this one, how it was constructed, how it played out, and the wonderful performances contained therein.