In the world of Hollywood, you can almost always do no wrong with Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg attached to a movie. And Bridge of Spies proved that notion perfectly. Based on a true story, it is just an all-around good movie.
Bridge of Spies gives the account of the Cold War incident in which U.S pilot, Francis Gary Powers’ (played by Austin Stowell) plane was shot down while conducting reconnaissance in 1960 of Soviet land. He was captured and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Enter James Donavon played by Tom Hanks.
The unfolding of the story sucks you in from the beginning, which is riddled with mystery. We are first introduced to Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a supposed Russian spy, who is solemn and intriguing throughout the entirety of the film. We are taken through retro Brooklyn subway stations and neighborhoods to the ultimate capturing of the Russian spy. From there Hanks’ character takes center stage.
I liked the way in which he portrays Donavon. He is a smart man who knows how to negotiate and get the job done, but he is also caring, and that shines forth in his character. Donavon was tasked with the heart-wrenching job of defending Abel, and he does. At the same time, the story of Powers’ capture and the trial is also told and the way in which these two intertwine makes for an intense storytelling.
Bridge of Spies is captivating, and the cinematography is one to be mentioned. I mean seeing a snowy eastern Germany as it recovers from the ruins of war is amazing. I love the fact that it shows historical moments like the building of Berlin Wall, the way in which American schools taught how to survive a nuclear war and in particular, the devastating effects of WWII on Germany.
A strong portrayal in the film is that of American’s attitude about the treatment spies or as Abel was referred to in the movie, traitors. It is done in such a way that it is almost unbelievable. From Donavan riding on a train and being stared at by everyone reading a newspaper to a police officer investigating the bullet holes in the Donavan’s windows (drive by shooting) and getting belligerent with him because he disagreed with his representing Abel. The sentiment of outrage during that time, according to the movie, is quite real.
Perhaps is it a true representation of how people felt and acted. Perhaps it is just amped up for the film, either way, at times, I feel like it was too much. We know that Hollywood loves to over dramatize certain elements in history with biographical movies.
Another aspect that took away from the movie somewhat is the portrayal of CIA agent Hoffman. Played by Scott Shepherd, his stark rebuttal to Donavan’s insistence on negotiating tries too hard to make Hanks’ character the hero. Without a doubt he is, but Hoffman telling him to stick to their plan and only negotiate for Powers without any regard for Fredric Pryor, the student captured and held in Germany, painted him as more than an insensitive person. It made him feel not real because who is going to say, “We’ll get Pryor some other time” if they have an opportunity to get him the first time?
His lack of emotion is the other source of criticism I have. It’s just emotion period. Too many characters lacked the emotion you’d think people would have in their situations. Donavan’s children, the lawyers at his firm, Allen Dulles (played by Peter McRobbie) who tells James that he’s going in there alone without any help or a way out if things go wrong. Maybe the situation truly did go down that way, and Donavan was told those things, but without any earnest? I just don’t imagine so.
In sentiment, I feel like James Donavan was too emotional. He built a “relationship,” based on his portrayal, with Rudolph Abel so much so that he almost looked sad to see him go at the end of the movie. His connection to him just didn’t seem true because who would get that close or have that much care for a supposed Russian spy unless they themselves had some form of empathy for their cause? I am not saying that he did in the movie, just using that as an example to explain his attachment.
Other than those two observations, it is a very worthwhile movie. It is not your usual over the top action piece, but it goes at a pace that keeps your attention. I give it 4 ½ out of 5 stars.
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The unfolding of the story sucks you in from the beginning, which is riddled with mystery.