Bridge of Spies (12A)
09:22 26 November 2015
Director Steven Spielberg reunites with actor Tom Hanks for an incredible true story of courage and daring that proves one man can make a difference.
Scripted by Matt Charman and the Coen brothers, Bridge Of Spies is an espionage thriller that pits a mild-mannered insurance lawyer against the bureaucratic might of the USSR and Germany during the Cold War.
Spielberg’s fingerprints are evident on each assured set-piece and he elicits another compelling performance from Hanks as an underdog and everyman, whose innate decency inspires everyone around him.
However, British co-star Mark Rylance lingers even longer in the memory as the convicted Soviet collaborator, who confronts the harsh reality of his situation with droll humour.
Their scenes together are truly wonderful.
Rudolf Abel (Rylance) is arrested in 1957 New York and labelled a Soviet spy.
Legal maven Thomas Watters Jr (Alan Alda) enlists one of his best lawyers, James B Donovan (Hanks), to mount a credible defence for the sake of appearances even though the odds are stacked against a fair trial.
The presiding judge (Dakin Matthews) makes clear his expectations of Abel’s fate: “He’ll receive a capable defence and God willing, he’ll be convicted.”
Donovan’s wife Mary (Amy Ryan) and three children, Carol (Eve Hewson), Peggy (Jillian Lebling) and Roger (Noah Schnapp), cannot fathom why the family man would represent a traitor to the American way of life.
Sure enough, Abel is convicted, but then a US pilot, Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell), is shot down over the Soviet Union.
Consequently, Donovan travels to Berlin to broker a covert deal to exchange Abel for Powers.
Against the advice of superiors, Donovan also opens negotiations with the Stasi for the safe return of an American economics student called Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers), who has been arrested.
Playing east against west, Donovan prays for a miracle as snow falls on the divided city.
Bridge Of Spies is a slow-burning tale of intrigue and bluff that takes its time establishing Donovan as the potential saviour of not one but three lives.
Hanks injects natural warmth and likeability to his character, a hate figure to fellow Americans, who viewed everything in black and white.
In considerably less screen time, Rylance endears us to his prisoner, who is painfully aware of his chances of survival.
“I’m not afraid to die, Mr Donovan,” he tells his lawyer, “although it would not be my first choice.”
As you would expect from Oscar-winning filmmaker Spielberg, who explored the horrors of war in Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, Bridge Of Spies illuminates tensions between east and west with boundless style.
Every scene is artfully composed by cinematographer by Janusz Kaminski, every swell of emotion is heightened by composer Thomas Newman.
**** (4 stars)