A war of prin­ci­ples

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - WEEK IN MOVIES - Leigh Paatsch

Di­rec­tor: Steven Spiel­berg (Schindler’s List) Star­ring: Tom Hanks, Mark Ry­lance, Amy Ryan, Austin Stow­ell, Alan Alda, Se­bas­tian Koch Ver­dict: Find­ing new heat in an old Cold War

NO one can match master film­maker Steven Spiel­berg when it comes to sim­pli­fy­ing com­plex mo­ments in his­tory with­out di­min­ish­ing their sig­nif­i­cance in any way.

Set pri­mar­ily in the late 1950s, Spiel­berg brings back the chill of the Cold War era – a pe­riod rife with para­noia and fear, where the end of the world seemed all too pos­si­ble to politi­cians and the pub­lic alike.

Work­ing from an in­ci­sively ac­ces­si­ble screen­play (cu­ri­ously cred­ited to the Coen broth­ers as co-writ­ers), a com­pelling tale is framed around a con­tro­ver­sial US trial which en­cap­su­lated the fraught spirit of the times.

A Bri­tish na­tional liv­ing as a hob­by­ing artist in New York City, Ru­dolf Abel (Mark Ry­lance) was busted by the FBI on se­ri­ous es­pi­onage charges in 1957.

All ev­i­dence pointed to the ir­refutable fact Abel was a high­rank­ing Rus­sian spy.

How­ever, to main­tain their sta­tus as de­fend­ers of all things demo­cratic, the US gov­ern­ment needed to show the world Abel was still en­ti­tled to due le­gal process.

So to keep up ap­pear­ances, the author­i­ties ap­pointed a dec­o­rated lawyer named James B. Dono­van (Tom Hanks) to rep­re­sent Abel.

Though Dono­van had a fault­less rep­u­ta­tion as a man of great hon­our, his ex­pe­ri­ence in try­ing high-pro­file po­lit­i­cal trea­son cases (which of­ten war­ranted the death penalty at that time) was se­ri­ously lack­ing.

In fact, when Dono­van an­swered the call from his coun­try’s pow­ers-that-be, he was work­ing ex­ten­sively in the un­re­lated field of in­sur­ance law.

What fol­lows in Bridge of Spies is a highly im­mer­sive drama which res­onates strongly on both an in­ti­mately per­sonal level – thanks to the po­tent screen chem­istry of Hanks and Ry­lance – and on a wider, po­lit­i­cal-his­tor­i­cal scale.

This is es­pe­cially true once the ac­tion shifts to Ber­lin a few years later, where Dono­van has been sec­onded on a top-se­cret as­sign­ment that once again in­volves Abel. With the Rus­sians hold­ing Amer­i­can fighter pi­lot Fran­cis Gary Pow­ers (Austin Stow­ell) as a prize po­lit­i­cal pris­oner, it is left to Dono­van to ef­fect a dan­ger­ously un­cer­tain brand of back-chan­nel diplo­macy with the Sovi­ets.

While the film is heav­ily re­liant on long stretches of di­a­logue in its first hour to prop­erly con­vey the com­pet­ing in­ter­ests and in­flu­ences spilling out of the Abel af­fair, Spiel­berg and his reg­u­lar cin­e­matog­ra­pher Janusz Kamin­ski still find ways to make this heady ex­pe­ri­ence work as a cin­e­matic spec­ta­cle.

Over­all, this is a classy, wholly sat­is­fy­ing of­fer­ing that sits com­fort­ably and de­servedly along­side Spiel­berg’s other re­cent ven­tures into the his­tory books, Lin­coln and War Horse.

Now show­ing Vil­lage Cine­mas (East­lands and Ho­bart only) and State Cin­ema

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