Inspired by true events, Bridge Of Spies tells the amazing story of James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks), an insurance lawyer who- during the height of the Cold War- was asked to defend Rudolf Abel, a Soviet spy (Mark Rylance) who had been arrested for espionage. Later, Donovan was asked to help negotiate the prisoner exchange of Abel for a captured American pilot (Austin Stowell).
Hanks is always a safe pair of hands. Here, he's an engaging presence as Donovan, a gee-shucks All-American guy, determined to play fair even in the toughest circumstances. It's the kind of role James Stewart would have played if this had been made in the 1950s. He puts his professional reputation on the line, first by defending Abel and then trying to appeal the decision. It puts his family in the firing line (literally, at one point) but he is prepared to go all the way to Berlin- and have to lie to his family- to help facilitate the exchange. It's a solid performance throughout.
Rylance puts in a dignified and measured turn as Abel, his voice barely raising throughout. He's remarkably calm, even in the face of a possible death penalty. When asked if he's nervous or afraid, Abel replies stoically 'would it help?' His accent wanders occasionally, although generally settles on a Scottish burr. He has some great interplay with Hanks and the two make a good pairing. As for the other actors, it's a solid job across the board even if the characters aren't particularly fleshed out. Amy Ryan isn't given much to do as Donovan's wife (although she is a warm and sympathetic presence) whilst Alan Alda feels wasted in the role of Donovan's boss. Stowell does well as the clean-cut All-American boy although his characterisation doesn't really go much beyond that.
The script- by Matt Charman and Joel & Ethan Coen- is tightly plotted and, in places, surprisingly wry. The threat of nuclear war is ever present and the point comes home in Donovan's young son and his school lessons. Steven Spielberg's direction is as good as you'd expect. It's a long film (141 minutes) but really doesn't feel it; you get swept up in the story. The entire look of the film is just superb - the period detail is spot on and even the bombed out ruins of Berlin look authentic.
I went into Bridge Of Spies with, admittedly, not very high expectations. I was expecting a solid drama. Instead, I got an exceptional piece of film-making, telling the story of an American hero who very few people will have heard of (and more should).
Rating: 4 out of 5