Bridge of Spies: A tour de force

The most important question regarding the new Steven Spielberg film in town, Bridge of Spies, was always this: will it be as good as we want it to be? Because there was no way in this world that a script, polished by Coen Brothers, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks as a New York-based lawyer, who finds himself negotiating on behalf of the U.S. government with the Soviet Union in the middle of the Cold War, was ever going to disappoint. So, is it as good as we wanted it to be? The answer is yes.

This film hits all the right notes; in the last 20 minutes, I was already thinking about how many Oscars it would win. Bridge of Spies showcases, I dare say, an America that stood for superior moral values as opposed to the Iron Curtain that clothed much of Eastern Europe and Asia. It is set during the Cold War when a nuclear apocalypse was an impending threat and one mistake — political, diplomatic or even a technical snag in a submarine — could potentially trigger it.

Genre: Historical drama
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance
Bottomline:An insurance lawyer finds himself in the thick of the Cold War
Bridge of Spies is so large in scope that it could have easily descended into chaotic philosophical chatter about two different ways of life: capitalism and communism. Instead, it sharply focuses on the life of James Donovan (Tom Hanks), who gets pulled into arguing the case of an alleged spy, Rudolph Abel (played with terrific poise and restraint by Mark Rylance), and later gets involved in tricky prisoner exchange negotiations with the Soviet Union and the German Socialist Democratic Republic to bring home a U.S. student and a spy pilot, Gary Powers.

By doing this, the film does what it set out to do: illuminate the idea of honour and patriotism, ask if human companionships are beyond and above the ideologies we believe in, underline the fear psychosis experienced by the people of both these super powers, and remind us of historical events, such as the building of the Berlin Wall, that left a deep scar on the human psyche.

We have all heard of how ordinary citizens were discredited and pummelled into surrender in the U.S. after being called communists during the height of the Cold War. Bridge of Spies shows what it means for a middle-class father and husband to face the wrath of the public and be called a traitor for merely doing his constitutional duty — every person has the right to defend oneself before the law. How should Rudolf, who stands by the Soviet Union despite being promised money and freedom for co-operation, be seen by the American public? Is his act not honourable? What about Powers, who appears to have given enough to the opposite camp? Should he be called a traitor even though he volunteered to stake his life for his country? It opens up plenty of discussions about what it means to commit treason and be a traitor.

The film, at its core, is held together by Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance (who, no doubt, will be a strong contender for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar). Bridge of Spies, with its purposeful, witty writing, and great performances, juxtaposes two competing world views. This is a fine film from Steven Spielberg after a long time.

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Printable version | Nov 28, 2021 7:02:11 AM |

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