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"Bridge of Spies" Review

By Evan Derby in Arts & Culture


Bridge of Spies theatrical release poster

There are plenty of action thriller movies set during the Cold War, but there aren’t many recent movies like “Bridge of Spies”: a Cold War movie that manages to be intriguing and exciting without having Tom Hanks grab a gun and shoot some Ruskies. And that’s the rather expected genius that we see from Hanks and director Steven Spielberg.

“Bridge of Spies” starts in 1957 with James Donovan (Tom Hanks), an insurance lawyer from Manhattan who is asked to represent an alleged Russian spy, Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance), in an espionage trial. Donovan takes on the case against Abel and is soon thrown into the hectic world of the Cold War, tasked with negotiating a deal for a downed U-2 pilot, Gary Powers (Austin Stowell), in Soviet-occupied East Berlin.

Tom Hanks in "Bridge of Spies"

Tom Hanks in "Bridge of Spies"

The excellence of “Bridge of Spies” lies in the fact that it’s writers, the legendary Coen Brothers, and director, Spielberg understand that Cold War movies are supposed to have certain elements: the good natured patriot (Donovan), the overreaching government officials, and the xenophobic depiction of the Soviet Union. “Bridge of Spies” has those, but it also has other, unexpected elements: the Soviet spy that is shown as a protagonist, an indifferent depiction of atrocities committed on both sides, and relatable, everyman humor.

Speaking of which, Hanks plays Donovan brilliantly as the most relatable guy on the planet. While wandering around East Berlin, Donovan is robbed of his coat. Donovan proceeds to play up the fact that he now has a cold by telling each of his negotiators that “he just wants to go home and get into bed.” Donovan, as the main character, is the lens that we see the world of the movie through, and Hanks is able to make us all relate to Donovan: he isn’t a superhuman powered by patriotism; he’s a regular guy.

Now Spielberg, as I’ve mentioned, does an excellent job directing. However Spielberg has two types of historical films, in terms of their rewatchability: movies like “Saving Private Ryan,” which are full of visceral action; and movies like “Lincoln,” which are more focused historical think pieces (although they are still Oscar worthy, grumbles Daniel Day Lewis). “Bridge of Spies,” despite lacking the WWII action of “Saving Private Ryan,” still firmly falls in the first camp: rewatchable, if only because of Hanks’ performance and an excellent script.

In summary: If you’re not firm in your choice that Cold War movies should only be at a James Bond level of action, check out “Bridge of Spies.” Prisoner negotiations have never been so interesting.

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