Steven Spielberg, director of such acclaimed films as ‘Jurassic Park’, ‘Schindler’s List’ and ‘Jaws’, also holds said position on the newly released ‘The Bridge of Spies’. This historically routed drama revolves around the true story of lawyer American James B. Donovan, the man who negotiated a prisoner exchange of one Soviet and one American spy, during the height of the Cold War. Whilst this may, at first, sound more like a history lesson than a blockbuster, the film’s aforementioned director, along with the stars Tom Hanks, and Alan Alda, create a tangibly tense atmosphere, reflecting that which existed during the Cold War. Although ending in classic Spielberg style, admittedly the movie takes some time to decide its true message. Nevertheless, once the tone is eventually set, the audience are rewarded with a truly charming, and hopeful ending.
Our story begins with the capture of Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel- though that is not exactly as thrilling as it may first appear. Abel is an old man, posing as a painter, and passing on intelligence through the most minute forms of communication. There are no car chases, no shoot outs- only an old man having his apartment turned upside down, and being arrested by American agents. Following the title sequence, Donovan is introduced, and agrees to take on the prisoner as his client; the American government wish to demonstrate the freedom of their country; the fact that all are given a fair trial and a good lawyer, unlike the Soviet nation. Donovan takes this case to heart, and not only defends Abel in court, but manages to renegotiate the judge’s sentence from the death penalty to imprisonment, once Abel is declared guilty. The height of the film is reached in a nail-biting, nerve-wracking moment of exchange between the American and Soviet prisoners. At any point, a shot could be fired, and the third world war could begin. This shows true talent- despite knowing that no conflict breaks out, the audience remain on the edge of their seats.
Nothing, however, is perfect. As previously mentioned, the film does take some time deciding what its true message is. From the beginning, Donovan’s defence of Abel is that he is ‘a good soldier’. A man defending his country. The films seems to point out that in the Cold War, as in any war, there is no ‘good’ and no ‘bad’- only different sides. This, unfortunately, is quickly replaced by the message at the core of many American war films. Namely, that they are the heroes, and any opposition is clearly in the wrong. This is emphasised by the ominous Empire (Star Wars reference!) sounding music that plays whenever any Soviet officials appear onscreen. Nevertheless, the ending provides you with that warm-happy stomach feeling, Spielberg, as always, neatly tying his films with a beautiful bow.
Despite its flaws, “The Bridge of Spies” is worth a watch, especially for those studying the Cold War at school. Tom Hanks, as always, gives a brilliant performance, and the cinematography is as beautiful as ever. If, over the New Year’s holiday, a cinema trip is in order, then it is certainly one to consider.