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Film Review: Bridge of Spies
In 2015, Steven Spielberg released Bridge of Spies, based on the 1960 U-2 incident during the Cold War. Starring Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Scott Shepherd, Sebastian Koch, Alan Alda, Austin Stowell, Billy Magnussen, Eve Hewson, Jesse Plemons, Michael Gaston, Peter McRobbie, Domenick Lombardozzi, and Mikhail Gorevoy, the film has grossed $157.5 million at the box office as of Jan. 17, 2016. One of the American Film Institute’s Top 10 Films of the Year for 2015 as well as one of the Top Ten Films for the National Board of Review, the film won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor and has been nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Production Design and Best Sound Mixing.
During the height of the Cold War, lawyer James B. Donovan has been tasked with defending Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel, even though it would reflect badly on himself and his family. However, when a U-2 Spy plane is shot down over USSR territory, the Soviet Union acquires American pilot Francis Gary Powers, leading Donovan to be recruited by the CIA to negotiate a prisoner exchange.
Though it’s slightly historically inaccurate, Bridge of Spies is still a great and very well-made film, particularly in how it shows that the United States and Communistic parties (Soviets and East German Stasi) really were interestingly similar during the Cold War. The film demonstrates that both sides were quite willing to persecute perceived spies and traitors at the cost of idealistic beliefs. On one hand the Stasi spent an inordinate amount of time typifying an innocent student as a spy for the West, barely giving him the chance to explain himself, and the Soviets worked to isolate and brainwash the downed pilot, betraying their society based on social equality. Meanwhile, the United States courts, all the way up to the Supreme Court, ignore a Supreme Court decision which dictates that foreign aliens are entitled to due process. Further, the judge is shown as not wanting to remain impartial and when it’s noted that evidence from an illegal search should be inadmissible in court, he allows it to stand.
All that shows just how the paranoia and fearmongering Americans experienced during the Cold War and Red Scare affected them. Donovan is shown as having his house attacked for daring to defend Abel and when the police commit to having squad cars in front of his house, one of the policemen speaks up and asks why they have to defend someone who is working to protect a communist. There’s also the people sitting in on the trial, one of whom stands up to yell and question why Abel isn’t being hanged upon sentencing. The effects are also seen through kids, notably coming from a video on nuclear safety, which is the notorious Duck and Cover video. One girl is seen in tears when thinking about the outcome of nuclear war and Donovan’s son is turned into a paranoid survivalist, taking measures like filling the bathtub.
However, the only person who doesn’t seem to have gotten caught up in Red Scare paranoia looks to be Donovan. Where his colleagues are shown as having a bigger interest in creating the illusion that Abel is given a proper defense than actually doing so, Donovan is shown as believing and carrying out the ideals that every other US citizen in the film claims to believe in. He takes Abel’s case because he believes the man deserves equal protection constitutionally despite him working against the United States. Further, he’s shown as not wanting to leave any innocent person behind, demonstrated in how he absolutely refuses to leave Pryor in East Germany when Powers’ exchange is a definite certainty.
The acting throughout the film is good as well with Rylance providing a well-done performance. Near the end when he and Donovan are waiting for Powers to arrive on the Bridge, his last utterance of “would it help” when asked if he’s worried gives off the air that yes, there’s some anxiousness and apprehension in going back due to not knowing how he’d be greeted, but it wouldn’t do any good to outwardly show it. Rylance is also able to make his story about the Standing Man relatable not just to Donovan, but to the audience as well. But it’s not just when he has dialogue as there are a number of scenes where Abel has to be silent and Rylance is able to command a notable presence. `
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