Bridge of Spies movie review by Erik Carlson

In 1957, a Russian spy is captured in Brooklyn and insurance lawyer James Donovan is given the thankless task of being his defense lawyer in court. When an American spy is shot down over the Soviet Union, however, Donovan is asked to negotiate the trade between the two men in the now divided Berlin, and must tread a tightrope so treacherous, it could not only get himself captured or killed, but cause tensions between the two countries to blow.

Tom Hanks gives a wonderful performance as Donovan, dutiful to his job, the Constitution, and the practice of law, as do the rest of the cast, especially Mark Rylance as the captured Russian spy Rudolph Abel, and Mikhail Gorevoy as a contact who Donovan meets at the Russian embassy in Berlin (who reminded me a lot of Peter Lorre).

Spielberg perfectly captures the look and feel of the 50s era both in America and the split Berlin. With America, its not only the lighthearted nostalgic stuff like the cars, the wardrobe, and the media (77 Sunset Strip and Duck and Cover) but also the paranoia and hatred for the Soviet Union. This is wonderfully done in two scenes: one when Donovan is riding the subway while the other passengers are reading newspapers and they slowly realize Donovan is the defense lawyer for Abel, and two, when Donovan’s son and his classmates are watching Duck and Cover and you can see the terror in their faces as they watch the bombs go off. Both scenes were just so beautifully and nerve-wrackingly done.

I had to laugh at a scene following the latter when Donovan’s son fills all the sinks and bathtubs with water so they could be prepared for when the bombs drop, because I remember hearing Spielberg tell that story in a documentary and knew that was a personal moment of his. I hope he gets the chance to do another film in this era soon (possibly of the sci-fi variety).

The conditions in East and West Berlin are also wonderfully portrayed as conditions in both areas are starting to deteriorate along with the fear and anguish as family and friends are separated from each other by the newly built Berlin Wall. This becomes terrifying as people trying to cross are killed or detained, stirring echoes of Schindler’s List.

What I think the film does best though is its slow building of tension, showing both the characters’ process toward a goal and also someone or something that is about to collide with it, such as the opening with Abel going through his daily routine while being tailed by FBI agents, or certain pickles that Donovan gets caught in, like with a street gang in East Berlin, and especially the climatic scene at the bridge where its a waiting game.

At the same time though with that bridge scene, I felt uplifted and heart warmed because the relationship between Donovan and Abel was shown to have really grown and you got to see them and the other main players as real characters and human beings. Abel was not an evil scheming spy but just a man doing his job and willing to die for it, Powers, the captured pilot, was not shown as some coward but a man who did his job, protected secrets, but was not willing to die for it, etc. and I think that really helps the movie stand out.

While not as strong as Spielberg’s other historical films like Saving Private Ryan or Schindler’s List, Bridge of Spies is a solid addition to that side of his library and a side I always look forward to because not only do I love learning about history and culture of the past, but Spielberg always manages to tell a great story about a piece of history that I never knew before and that makes my love for history and his work that much more stronger.

Some people might be off put that Bridge of Spies doesn’t have much action in it and is mostlytalking but they shouldn’t let that stop them because the conversations in this film are so well written and attention grabbing that it really works and that should be enough. An old fashioned thriller of the mind like a lot of old Cold War spymovies/stories were.

I say definitely see it.

Final Rating: 3.7 stars out of 5.

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About The Author

Born in Des Moines, Iowa and raised in nearby Windsor Heights, Erik Carlson developed a passion for film when his grandmother showed him the classic films of Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, and The Little Rascals. Inspired by the works of Spielberg, Lucas, Zemeckis,Disney, and Hitchcock, ErIk was determined to become a writer and filmmaker by the time he entered high school. He graduated from the University of Iowa in 2012 with a degree in English and Cinema and will graduate with a Masters in Filmmaking from the New York Film Academy in January.

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