Stars shine in war of words

Rutherglen Reformer - - The Ticket -

Mark­ing the fourth big screen col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Tom Hanks and Steven Spiel­berg, Bridge of Spies sees the leg­endary pair re­turn to the world of war, al­beit in very dif­fer­ent fash­ion to 1998’s Saving Pri­vate Ryan.

We’re in true-life ter­ri­tory once again, though, as Hanks plays James B Dono­van, a lawyer re­cruited to de­fend cap­tured Soviet spy Ru­dolf Abel (Mark Ry­lance) dur­ing the height of the Cold War.

From a taut open­ing se­quence that sees Abel taken into cus­tody, fea­tur­ing in­tri­cate set and shot de­sign util­is­ing a mir­ror, mag­ni­fy­ing glass and paint­ing easel, it’s clear Spiel­berg is favour­ing a less-is-more ap­proach.

It’s old school film-making be­fit­ting the time pe­riod and ver­bal joust­ing with end­less scenes of ta­ble chat and slow-pan­ning cam­era work en­com­pass­ing the pro­ce­dural na­ture of Dono­van’s quest for ul­ti­mate jus­tice.

Help­ing things along no end is first rate screen­writ­ing from Matt Char­man – pen­ning only his sec­ond movie script – and the Coen broth­ers, with the trio serv­ing up some elec­tri­fy­ing face-offs for Spiel­berg as well as sprin­kling the story with mo­ments of levity, in­clud­ing a fun gag re­lat­ing to Dono­van’s daugh­ter’s can­celled date night.

Hanks has built a rep­u­ta­tion as one of Hol­ly­wood’s most bank­able stars but there’s no sign of him coast­ing on his iconic sta­tus. Fol­low­ing up Cap­tain Phillips with an­other su­perla­tive turn, his moral­is­tic cru­sader over­comes ini­tial trep­i­da­tion to take on Abel’s case to form a touch­ing bond with the spy.

Dono­van is like­able, hon­est and loyal, even when be­ing frus­trated by bi­ased judges dur­ing court­room strug­gles and treated like an enemy of the state for just do­ing his job.

Kent-born Ry­lance won wide­spread ac­claim for his role as Thomas Cromwell in TV pe­riod drama Wolf Hall but has made lit­tle im­pres­sion on the big screen.

Well, all that is about to change fol­low­ing this en­dear­ing dis­play. Con­stantly wip­ing his nose, in­cred­i­bly laid­back about his fate and gifted his own catch­phrase (“would it help?”), his Abel is far from a su­per spy and Ry­lance re­frains from histri­on­ics and grand­stand­ing. It’s no won­der he will re-team with Spiel­berg again – as The BFG next year.

Spiel­berg’s cast is far from starry but per­for­mances are strong across the board and the di­rec­tor again shows his tal­ent for a swoop­ing set piece (awesome air­craft de­struc­tion) and pow­er­ful im­agery (Berlin Wall con­struc­tion).

The tension is ratch­eted to sweaty palm lev­els dur­ing a grip­ping cli­max which sees Dono­van ne­go­ti­ate and barter his way silly to­wards his ul­ti­mate end game.

Beau­ti­fully crafted and acted, Bridge of Spies is a sublime, less grandiose com­pan­ion piece to Spiel­berg’s Schindler’s List and Saving Pri­vate Ryan.

On the bench Abel and Dono­van face an im­por­tant court date

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