Stars shine in war of words
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