One of the final movies I saw on this list, I simply knew I had to see this movie. It had my name written all over it, and while the rest of my family weren’t into the trailers, I found the concept fascinating. Impressive line-up of talent right off the bat with one of my favorite directors, Stephen Spielberg, behind it. So, I went out of my way to see this movie, both for the Countdown and for myself. And it was wonderful; brilliant even!
Based on a true story during the height of the Cold War, an insurance lawyer named James B. Donovan enjoyed a content and successful career. That all changed one day when the US government calls on him to represent a recently captured Soviet spy, Rudolph Abel. Unfortunately, Donovan’s involvement comes with consequences, namely social ostracism and eventually the participation in a historic prisoner exchange between the US and Soviet Union.
On a technical level, Bridge of Spies may be the best film I’ve seen all year. I was rooting for this movie during the Oscars knowing that it wasn’t going to win, but supporting it all the same. No matter, though; at least I can rank the movie highly on my list.
I really love this story and writing here. I do realize that this was based on real events and that creativity didn’t play too much of a role in the final product (though inaccuracies do exist here), but the brilliance of Bridge of Spies is in how the story is told through screenplay and dialogue more than anything else.
I’ve heard someone describe it perfectly by saying the negotiation scenes are handled very much like action scenes. There’s a heaviness and impact in every word said throughout the adventure, and it’s just as epic as any blockbuster would be. I think the keyword here is “impact”. This film has a way of gripping you into its struggle and making you care. It’s very intense and emotional, but never in a boring way. It’s an overall captivating and powerful narrative.
This film also looks awesome, both in terms of set pieces and in terms of cinematography. Sure 1950’s America looks alright, but when we go to Soviet Russia, that’s when things start looking great. I found the scenery to be everything I imagined Russia to be at the time. The set has a way of setting the tone of the story from then on: authoritarian, scary, tense and hopeless. The story complements its set in more ways than one. That’s because many scenes were filmed in the actual locations the film’s events occurred. That was the actual Glienicke Bridge, Tempelhof Airport and so on. My favorite piece of imagery might be the look of the Berlin Wall, which you see being built during the movie.
As for cinematography, you’ll find a lot of scenes done in one take, or some elongated scenes artistically placed to build tension or fully capture the look of a situation. The aforementioned Berlin Wall building scene is a great example of this style, helping to illustrate the Wall’s effect on civilians at the time. Another example is toward the beginning of the movie which shows a elongated shot of Abel’s arrest which built the Abel character and served as a gripping starting off point. Very good use of camerawork, taking what Creed did to the next level.
Is it any surprise that a film this high on the list has excellent acting, too? For brevity sake, I’ll discuss only the essential two performances, starting with veteran actor Tom Hanks. Hanks provides a very empathetic, morally-driven performance. In both the Abel trial and prisoner exchange, he basically acts as the conscience of the operation. All three involved nations (America, Russia and Berlin) have their own agendas and are driven mainly by pride and self-interest, while Donovan only cares about what’s right. He’s a phenomenal lead for that, and that sense of justice plays a huge role in his relationship with his chemistry with Rudolph Abel.
Responsible for this film’s only Oscar, Mark Rylance plays a very emotional, brave and sympathetic character who wins the audience over from scene one. Though he is a spy, Abel is by no means malicious or villainous. He was forced into his situation when all he wants is to be left alone to draw in peace. This character, deserving of all the awards you can give him, is the heart of this movie, and every scene is better with him in it.
Bridge of Spies is one of the best movies you’ll see in the past few years. It’s a masterpiece in so many ways and deserves to be seen by anyone, just as long as you’re old enough to understand the Cold War and have an attention span for “talking movies”. Even if the latter stipulation doesn’t suit you, you should still give it a shot.
I’m SBox180. Thanks for reading!
View #1 here!
For all entries in the 2015 Movie Countdown, click here!