Thursday, October 29, 2015

Movie with Abe: Bridge of Spies

Bridge of Spies
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Released October 16, 2015

The Cold War was an interesting time for the parties involved since it was defined by a constant state of uneasiness and covert operations, with few military engagements and visible confrontations occurring. That extended time period presents a world of storytelling possibilities. Director Steven Spielberg, no stranger to historical films and ones set during wartime, reunites with his “Saving Private Ryan” star Tom Hanks to put on screen the true story of James Donovan, an American lawyer tasked with providing a defense for an accused Russian spy, who defied the spirit of his era by giving it his all and risking even more to save American lives.

This drama begins with the arrest of Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), who is suspected of being a Russian spy. Donovan, a charismatic lawyer, agrees to take on his case, and it quickly becomes clear that it is all a show to make his conviction legally acceptable. Donovan pushes to argue against the automatic presumption of guilt, but learns that he may have better luck keeping his client alive so that, if Americans are taken prisoner by the Soviet Union, the United States has something to trade. When that inevitably happens, it’s hardly a shock that Donovan is the one called upon to act as the negotiator between two parties who can’t officially acknowledge the existence of any situation.

There is a surprising amount of humor infused into this otherwise dark and dreary tale, and most of it comes from Hanks. Donovan cracks plenty of jokes, some about how he will be the second most-hated man in America for defending number one and others about the state of affairs in Germany, which, on the eve of the building of the Berlin Wall, is the unstable site for negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union. That lightheartedness sometimes feels inappropriate, though it often also helps to invigorate a story that, while interesting, is far from thrilling. There is little action and few thrills to be found in a film that, while marketed as a thriller, is merely a dramatic period piece. Hanks and Rylance are right for their parts, and strengthen a decent film that isn’t Spielberg’s best. It captures the feeling of the times and remains engaging for the majority of its 141-minute runtime, but lacks a certain excitement and powerful impact that other films from the venerable director have mastered.


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