A war of principles
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