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Movie Review: The Bridge of Spies (Spoiler Free)

Updated on October 20, 2015

Spoiler Free

If you've read my other reviews, you know when I say Spoiler Free, it's exactly that.

Movie poster
Movie poster | Source

Initial Impressions

I've got to admit, there was nothing that really drew me to this film before I went and saw it. It looked like another Tom Hanks drama set in a certain period in the last hundred years. And you know what? I was right. But, since my wife's birthday was this month and we got a free ticket to movie tavern, all while we didn't have a lot going on, we went to see it.

And let me be honest, this movie is unbelievably fantastic. I suppose unbelievably is an incorrect word, because so many other Tom Hanks featured films carry the same quality such as Charlie Wilson's War and so much else. Directed by Steven Spielberg and the script was written by Matt Charman and the Coen Brothers, it's a very good film in so many respects without any large or obvious failing.

As it is based on a true story, I will not be reviewing it as such, mostly since I am unfamiliar with the source events.

The Plot and Synopsis

The plot is many tiered, but there are two predominant arcs that the film features. New York lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks) is selected to be the defense attorney for one alleged Soviet spy in the height of the Cold War. Rather than be swept up in the blunt force of patriotism, Donovan does his best to give his defendant the Constitutional due process that he deserves, despite the nation's cries to lynch him. Later on, Donovan is nominated for his negotiating skills to secure the exchange of prisoners for one American pilot captured by the Soviets, forcing him to East Berlin.

The plot is far deeper than that, but as I personally enjoyed every twist in the film, both little and large, I would rather you experience it the way I did. It's possible if you're not an overt fan of Cold War tactics you might be more familiar with the way the plot propels but I believe you'd enjoy this film regardless. The acting is fantastic and there's a huge amount of attention to detail. Everything seems so fine tuned that I'm surprised this film isn't being talked about more.

Rudolf Abel and James Donovan
Rudolf Abel and James Donovan | Source

Casting and Performance

Really, I could just say this is Tom Hanks at his best and be done with it.

But really, this is Tom Hanks at his best, portraying an everyman character. He's getting old, noticeably overweight, has a family, wants to do his job well in addition to doing the right thing. Better than that though, Hanks is instantly likeable as James Donovan, packing some major nerve when talking down those who are in power over him and doing so with such an attitude that your heart may seize for just a second. Mark Rylance does an impressive job as alleged Soviet spy Rudolf Abel, particuarly stealing the scene with a repeated response. The rest of the cast does a great job as well, but it's these two that are at the head of the pack.

The Patriotism

There's a fascinating element to this film that I'm not sure where it stands. It begins with Donovan going, as some might say, anti-patriotic or a communistic sympathizer. All of America wants the spy executed including more than one member of the judicial system. Someone even states that the process is narrowly legal, refering to how much rules are being bent to 'deal' with Rudolf Abel.

Still, it becomes clear later on in the film how Donovan views East Berlin to his home, or how the different prisoners are being treated. Nothing about the comparison itself is said, but the film does more than acknowledge it, which brings me to my next point.

Being followed in the rain
Being followed in the rain | Source

Saying it Without Speaking

Some of the best scenes in the film are wordless, or more appropriately, are performed without a highlighted dialogue. The beginning of the film goes on for about five or ten minutes with no one saying anything but, 'Where'd he go?' But the film does an excellent job of keeping an observant watcher in the loop. I haven't seen a film in so long so expertly demonstrate the 'Show Don't Tell' rule as Bridge of Spies has.

That's not to say that this film doesn't have exposition, in fact, it has quite a lot of it. Still, the exposition is neatly packaged. If you get stuck talking to a theater worker for five seconds, you might miss a lot. These exposition scenes, for the most part, are compact, fast, and neatly packaged so the next set can be utilized and the story pace continues on unhindered. You won't find yourself bored and waiting for something exciting to happen in this film.

Rated PG-13

There is some cursing including the 'F-bomb' but this is no Martin Scorsese film by a long shot. The number of times characters curse in the film can likely be counted on two hands and no more. There's also some graphic violence, such as the mild torture scenes and one particular scene where some East Berlin citizens attempt to cross the wall. These scenes are utilized to highlight some aspects of the film, but not to carry the film themselves.

Closing Thoughts

I was very pleasantly surprised by this film. Tom Hanks almost always impresses and the shots of this film are gorgeous and so good. The plot is well constructed with each little twist changing the setting, and the pacing is fluent and flawless. This is a great movie, and well worth seeing it in theaters.

Powers on trial in the Soviet Union
Powers on trial in the Soviet Union | Source

Tl;dr

  • Very good Cold War film
  • Directed by Spielberg, written by Coen brothers, performed by Tom Hanks
  • Flawless scenes without dialogue say so much
  • Hanks' character, James Donovan, is the most likeable lawyer you'll ever see onscreen
  • Period setting is on point
  • Personally didn't expect much and found myself greatly enjoying it

Do You Plan on Seeing this Film?

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More Movie Reviews

Enjoyed this film review? I covered a large number of films I saw during the summer and plan to do more during this fall season. After I've seen a few of the more Fall-released films, I plan on creating another list similar to my summer rendition.

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