During the Cold War, the Soviet Union captures U.S. pilot Francis Gary Powers after shooting down his U-2 spy plane. Sentenced to 10 years in prison, Powers' only hope is New York lawyer James Donovan, recruited by a CIA operative to negotiate his release. Donovan boards a plane to Berlin, hoping to win the young man's freedom through a prisoner exchange. If all goes well, the Russians would get Rudolf Abel, the convicted spy who Donovan defended in court.
In the shadow of war, one man showed the world what we stood for.
For whatever reason, I didn't go see "Bridge on Spies" when it was first released. Believe it or not, but I think that the poster, which I find quite repelling, had an effect on that decision. Also, the trailer, which is quite typical in its format, didn't motivate me enough to go out and see the film.
Two years after, I was looking for a movie just before going in a business trip by train and quickly grabbed this film onto my iPad. I didn't have anything else better to watch.
Boy, was I wrong to have waited two years.
From the very first second, I simply loved the film. What struck me right away is Steven Spielberg's imaginative ways of directing the scenes. We can see that Spielberg carefully crafted this film. Like a painting, it doesn't feel rushed at all.
Meanwhile, the film is extremely funny. Not in a ha-ha kind of way. But the humour of "Bridge of Spies" is very subtle and working almost every single time (except when we get to see the wife of the Russian spy).
Tom Hanks is Tom Hanks. How else can we say it? He's of course a magnificent actor and doesn't play in an autopilot mode. He is still, after all his years of acting, proving and providing something to his characters.
He is extremely believable as this extraordinary ordinary man, who is faced with a life-changing question. I'd exchange any Captain America or any other so-called superhero for a hero like the one portrayed by Tom Hanks.
There is a particularly good scene just after the first trial of Rudolf Able. In it, the boss of James Donovan is furious and telling him that he should stop there and not trying to appeal the judgement. The writing of this scene is particularly good. Donovan's wife jumps in and says "Tom is saying there is a cost to these things. A cost to both your family and your firm."
Then, there is a beautiful but very short scene, in which Rudolf says to James Donovan. "Jim, you should be careful."
This is to me the true theme of the film. When everything is telling us to stop, even at the sake of our own family - what we cherish the most - should we fight the adversity or simply go along with the flow and not make waves?
This reminded me a lot of the movie "JFK", by Oliver Stone. In it, Jim (!) Garrison is continuously trying to fight the injustice and seeking for the truth, when everyone is telling him to stop. He gets death threats, his family is suffering and ultimately he decides that he'll pursue. Not because it is easy, nor because it is beneficial for him. Just because it is the right thing to do.
What would you have done in such a situation?
Interestingly, both films are happening at the same period in our History (1957 in the first, 1963 in the second).
Finally, after all the praise of the film, I finish with the best part of it. Mark Rylance. I actually discovered him in the brilliant "Dunkirk", from Christopher Nolan. I loved his performance and was delighted to see him again in this film (even though it was released two years before).
Mark Rylance is just astonishing in this film. His performance is simply per-fect. It subtle, humorous and ultimately captivating. He is really a marvellous actor and he totally deserved his Oscar for supporting role.
The writing was particularly great, and I was surprised to learn that it was written by the Coen brothers (along with Matt Charman). The writing is particularly good and I wonder how much of the content of the film was already in the screenplay.
I was expecting John Williams to score this film. But very quickly (actually from the very first minutes), I thought that something was wrong. Then, the more the film continued, the more the soundtrack sounded like a Thomas Newman score. At the end of the film, I quickly verified and saw that John Williams wasn't able to score this film for medical reasons.
Even though I deeply appreciate Thomas Newman's music, which can multiply the emotions of any scene by a million times, I didn't particularly liked his soundtrack. The reason is that the very first scene is so delicate, so beautifully crafted, that any typical Hollywood music would actually reduce the effect of realism that Spielberg tried to achieve.
Therefore, the only moments when Newman imposes his music, it really diminishes the power of the sequence. For instance, the very classical (in the typical sense of the term) music from the scene when Tom Hanks is speaking in front of the Supreme Court. Suddenly, the scene feels totally flat and we don't believe in it anymore.
U-2 CRASH SCENE
In this very subtle and realistic film, I was very surprised to see the scene of the U-2 crashing in the air. I thought that it was a very courageous scene for Spielberg. Not because of the scale - even thought it must have been a difficult scene to shoot - but because of incorporating this big special effect scene in such a delicate film. The result could have been very bad, but on the contrary, I thought it worked extremely well.
To summarize, "Bridge of Spies" was much better than I anticipated. I give the movie an 8 out of 10. Brilliant film.