Steven Spielberg is a man of many talents. He's mastered sci-fi. He's mastered war. He's mastered adventure. He's mastered suspense. He's mastered just about every genre you can think of, and usually a few times over. He's not just one of the greatest directors of all time, but he's the most well known director of all time as well. He is the director. With Bridge of Spies, Spielberg has returned to the war genre, except this time around there's no fighting. There's no nazis. There's no actual war. It's set in the backdrop of war. The cold war, to be exact. Being back in this setting just feels like home for good old Spielberg, and it was an utter delight to watch.
Bridge of Spies is the true story of an american lawyer named James Donovan (Tom Hanks). After a soviet spy named Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) is captured and put on trial, the CIA recruits Donovan to come and defend him, but it's not long after this that a fighter pilot (Austin Stowell), hired to take photos of Berlin, is involved in an accident that brings his plane crashing down. He's taken hostage by the Soviets and interrogated for information, and it's up to the CIA to get him out of there. Their plan? Send Donovan over to Berlin to perform an exchange of prisoners. And if you know much about the cold war, you know that's certainly not a good idea.
Bridge of Spies is directed by Steven Spielberg and written by the Coen Brothers, as well as some other guy named Matt Charman, and this combination couldn't have turned out better. It doesn't necessarily feel like a Coen brothers film for most of the runtime, a few brief moments being the exception to this statement, but their screenplay is fantastic nonetheless. It's a war film that's not about war. It may be set during the cold war, but the cold war wasn't an overly violent period, and neither was this film. It's more about the threat of war, rather than the actions of one, and this couldn't be a more perfect fit for Spielberg.
It's a political thriller, the runtime filled nearly entirely with conversations between two or more parties. There are long, slow and quiet scenes with little to no movement and, thanks to Spielberg's cinematic approach to everything he does and his stylish and riveting cinematography, it's some of the most gripping cinema you will see all year. It's no surprise to hear that Spielberg does a great job at directing this film, but it's true. He does. He manages to turn two and a half hours of slow building negotiations into something more exciting and tension filled than the last three Terminator films combined, and I'm not sure if I'm congratulating this film or insulting those films when I say that. Let's just say I'm congratulating this one.
The first thirty minutes or so can drag from time to time, but once Tom Hanks' character travels to Berlin, Bridge of Spies transforms itself from a decent movie into an excellent one. It's not that the first thirty minutes are bad, but it's just that they're not quite as interesting as the remainder of the film. It's slow in pace and the subject matter is a bit clouded, but once those clouds clear, the film steps it up a notch. The stakes go from a Soviet spy potentially getting the death penalty to the Soviet Union potentially finding out everything the US has planned for this war, and the one man who can stop this from happening is our hero, Mr. Hanks.
When Hanks and Spielberg team up, all sorts of magical things can happen. With Bridge of Spies, Hanks gives a tremendous performance. If it weren't for Captain Phillips, this would be the best performance he's given in a number of years, but I'm glad it's not because Captain Phillips is an absolutely brilliant movie and I'm glad it exists. Hanks brings likability to this character, and he also nails the family aspect of the film. There's just a handful of scenes between him and his family, but in every last one of them you can tell they have a history together. You can feel his love for them, making the scenes in Berlin all the more suspenseful. It increases the stakes, not on a global scale, but on a personal level.
Surprisingly, however, Hanks isn't the only actor in this movie to give a masterclass performance. Mark Rylance, actor of the soviet spy being held prisoner in the US, manages to give Hanks a run for his money. He may never catch up to him, but he certainly had him running, and that's what counts. His character is a calm and relaxed fellow, never stressing despite being in the most stressful of times, and Rylance nails it. He absolutely nails it. I only found out today that he'll be the BFG in Spielberg's adaptation of the classic children's novel and this only makes me more excited for it.
To sum up, Bridge of Spies see's Steven Spielberg returning to his prime. The performances are beyond brilliant, the scenes in Berlin are thoroughly engaging and the screenplay mixes classic Coen brothers with classic Spielberg, and the two work extremely well together.
4 1/2 Stars