“Everyone deserves a defense. Everyone matters.” James B. Donovan
This weekend I decided to catch up on rental movies. On my way to the video store I was cold, so it seemed fitting to rent “Bridge of Spies” that was set during the Cold War. If you pay to rent this film, you won’t be disappointed.
In Bridge of Spies, Steven Spielberg once again masterfully goes to the historical drama with a righteous man’s theme. This time insurance lawyer James B. Donovan is recruited by his firm to defend an accused Soviet spy, Rudolf Able (Mark Rylance), in order to show the world the American justice system is democratic. Donovan becomes instrumental in unofficially negotiating on behalf of the US government in East Berlin. The deal is nearly jeopardized by Donovan’s childlike humanity.
The story is “inspired by true events” with the outline of the exchange of Able for U-2 downed pilot Gary Powers historically accurate. As usual, Spielberg recreates the times with the atmosphere, cars, and film noir aspect of a spy thriller in the figurative and literal Cold War. He once said, “I always wanted to tell the stories that really interested me in my personal life which are stories about things that actually happened.” He does just that and does it well.
Tom Hanks is solid and believable as the fish-out-of-water insurance lawyer, with a large spoonful of patriotic American sugar as Donovan trumpets about the importance of the constitution over the lynch-mob mentality of the general public. Alan Alda, great to see again on the big screen, channels his best exasperation as Donovan’s boss, looking for a clean and quick conviction. But it’s Mark Rylance who stands out as the shining star of the film. His salubrious and calm turn as the cornered spy just reeks of class. He was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor at the Golden Globes and Academy Awards, but they didn’t show him justice.
The cinematography is superb with some gorgeous tracking shots and framed scenes. Most outstanding of all is the scene depicting the traumatic construction of the Berlin wall with long tracking shots in greys and blues delivering a truly breathtaking piece of cinema. They captured the dreary shades that I saw in 1987 East Berlin perfectly.
The only issue I had was the soundtrack. Music is used sparingly and surprisingly ineffectively by composer Thomas Newman. Mr. Newman’s work isn’t bad, but his soundtrack was unremarkable, and doesn’t give certain scenes that little extra punch we expect during the climax of Spielberg movies. This is the first Spielberg film in 30 years in which he didn’t use John Williams, and it’s too bad.
“Bridge of Spies” is more about smart people in conversation with each other, knowing that if they made the wrong decision it was going to be the end of the world, than it is about entertainment.
It’s easy for me to recommend to anyone who missed it at the theaters. It’s gripping from beginning to end. I sat silent save for the odd laugh where some appropriate humor is weaved into the story.
PS: Can you believe they still have a video store in Ironwood? Didn’t those disappear years ago everywhere else? No Redbox here. LOL