The Cold War is primarily known for its spies, international tensions, and the danger of nuclear weapons. While this year has already had one movie about the Cold War (The Man From U.N.C.L.E) it was a summer action flick. Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies is unlike any other Cold War movie I’ve seen—because instead of shootouts, cool gadgets, and femme fatales, it is actually more of a legal drama that splits in the middle, making the two parts feel like two completely separate entities. Thankfully, Spielberg’s excellent eye and a consistently great Tom Hanks keep it from being too bogged down.
Based on the true story of a layer, James Donovan (Tom Hanks) who had to negotiate the trade of an American spy who crashed over Russia for a Russian spy found in America, Bridge of Spies really wants to try and tell the whole story. Coming in at 140 minutes, the movie could have undergone some serious trimming, or just an entire reworking of the first half of the film which, in the long run, should not have been a major part of the film. The first part of the film is James defending Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) in American courts just to prevent him from getting the death penalty.
That itself could have been a movie, but then things go further as more characters are introduced and we see the American spy-plane crash over Russia, which means James must then go to Berlin to continue the process over there. The majority of the dialogue is lawyer and diplomatic jargon, which makes the film a little hard to follow at times as you are trying to constantly recall who is who and where their allegiances stand.
Tom Hanks comes in for the rescue (literally), as he usually does, with another top-notch performance. While the script isn’t nearly as full of powerful lines like his other work with Spielberg, he still handles it with his usual admirability. The majority of the film revolves around him, and we come to honor and appreciate him. He fights for what’s right, even if it means defending someone who is an enemy of the country. He is sort of like an Atticus Finch character who defends the helpless when nobody else does, and must face the consequences from his fellow countrymen for it.
The supporting cast, especially Alan Alda, Amy Ryan, and Jesse Plemons get pushed to the wayside for the most part—and especially when they get to Berlin, which makes them feel unnecessary. It is an unfortunate waste of these great actors who could have added a lot more.
While the story plods along at a very deliberate pace, Spielberg still crafts a meticulously designed world where everything is detailed down to the pens in a cup on a desk. Janusz Kaminski, Spielberg’s go-to cinematographer, grasps the muted color of Berlin at the dawn of the Wall with wonderful photography.
The Bridge of Spies is a hard one to call. Its story and pacing could be a huge deterrence for some, but just like Spielberg’s other works, there is an immense amount of satisfaction when the movie comes to an end. So, in a way, The Bridge of Spies is rewarding, but for some it may not be rewarding enough.