Spielberg tells the tale of an unsung American hero in good fashion in “Bridge of Spies.”
When most of us hear the name James Donovan, I doubt it’ll ring any bells, but he’s someone we should’ve heard of. The film follows a chapter in Donovan’s interesting life during the Cold War. An insurance lawyer by trade, Donovan’s life is thrown into disarray when he’s asked to take the case of an immigrant accused of being a Russian spy, Rudolph Abel. While America hates Abel and vocally wants to see him dead, Donovan takes the brave stance of upholding the constitution and defending Abel to the best of his ability. Donovan’s story gets ever more entangled as the Soviet Union captures a U.S pilot, whom Donovan must negotiate for with Abel. Donovan might’ve been an insurance lawyer, but there’s no doubt he is a hero who saved lives.
So, there’s a lot of material to go off here, and who better to bring this true story to life than Steven Spielberg. He specializes in telling the stories of American heroes and delivers another great one with this film. His great direction and vision was everything you’d expect it to be. The film is split into two halves in a way, the first half being the court case of Abel and second half being the trade. While the first half is good, the second half is where Spielberg shines. His captivating special effects and realism in every scene, such as the building of the Berlin wall is great. Not to cut Spielberg short but a good deal of credit goes Adam Stockhausen, the production designer who’s known for his work on such beautifully designed and realistic sets such as 12 Years a Slave and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Spielberg managed to put his own twist and influence audience opinion in a masterful way. Mark Rylance was cold and logical, exactly as he should be, but Spielberg’s great directing portrayed this man not as a spy that should be killed but as a man who’s simply doing his job. Throughout the film, you even find yourself rooting for him. That just goes to show, when Spielberg is in charge, anything is possible.
While there are three writers listed for this film, they didn’t exactly all start at the same time. Matt Charmin wrote a full script. Then, after all the actors were signed and what not, the wonderful Coen brothers called in and asked if they could help out. The Coen brothers did what they did best in a great way. Dialogue seemed bouncier and more real, characters were deeper and much more fleshed out, and little bits of memorable lines and humor were embedded throughout. Charmin wrote a good base, but the Coen brothers really made this film special. With actors such as Tom Hanks, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, and long time theater actor Mark Rylance leading the film, you know the acting was at a high level. Tom Hanks spent much of the film with the camera on him and he delivered for two hours straight, certainly no easy feat. Mark Rylance was great, despite not having much screen time in his career.
While the script was good, it wasn’t great. It has the taste of a phenomenal Coen brother’s script, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t a Coen brother’s script. If they had done the entire thing, I think the story would’ve been more engaging, fleshed out these great characters even more, added some depth, and made something very memorable. Several characters, such as Amy Ryan and Alan Alda’s characters were very minor and faded into the background very quickly. The film follows Tom Hanks around too much. Sure he’s a great actor playing a great character, but this story has many sides to it and they should be told.
At the end of the day, this is a good film that you will enjoy watching. With Tom Hanks, Spielberg, and the Coen brothers involved, you don’t get the legendary masterpiece you’d expect, but with this much fire power, you really can’t go wrong.