Bridge of Spies (2015)
Dir: Steven Spielberg
Some of the best ‘historical’ films are the ones in which an event that has gone largely unknown is explored fully. This is a perfect example of that, telling a fascinating story I knew nothing about while showing the cold war from some interesting perspectives which I’ve not seen in film before.
James Donovan (Tom Hanks) is an American insurance lawyer asked to do his civic duty by defending an accused Soviet spy (Mark Rylance) for the appearance of a fair trial. After giving the defence far more diligence than expected he is later asked to take the lead in hostage exchange negotiations with the Soviet Union.
Though the film has spy beginnings and the story revolves around a spy and issues of espionage, it has so much more to it as the story develops, including a legal drama angle. Plus at the heart of it all there’s the motivations of a family man who acts on principle and a strong personal sense of morality despite making unpopular choices, a central role really bringing it all together. Throw in a few moments of excellent humour and you have an incredibly intelligent, engrossing, informative and primarily entertaining film that showcases the best of all cast and crew involved.
Even if Spielberg wasn’t the director, I think Hanks would have still been considered for the role. We are used to seeing him play the upstanding and principled man, often with a family and so he fit this role very comfortably, undoubtedly aided by his good working relationship with the director. After seeing and hearing multiple interviews with them both (often together) it’s clear to see that Hanks brought ideas to the role and Spielberg took them on board, something that I felt really shows in the film as the character feels so rounded out.
The Coen brothers were involved in perfecting the script, though when they last collaborated on another war-set film ‘Unbroken’ it left me (and many others) unimpressed here I found the script solid. There are a few obvious elements in there that were a bit on the nose but generally they didn’t come even close to irksome, the majority of the writing worked very well. Plus there’s a clear sense of humour that comes through, apparently one of the aspects that the Coens most added to in their contribution to the screenplay. I think I laughed more than I have in some ‘comedies’ and I’m sure it was always at things that were fully intended to be taken in that way.
I recently criticised ‘The Monuments Men’ for not getting the balance of humour and drama right in a war setting and thus failing to make me either laugh nor root for the characters. In stark contrast, this film did exactly that, the tonal balance was perfect. At no point did I feel like the serious elements were undermined by the few lighter moments that prompted appropriate laughter. Some of the laughs came from soviet subterfuge and positioning, and while they led to things coming across as slightly absurd and funny, it also makes the point clear that a lot was going on to try to manipulate the situation.
Unlike the couple seated behind me at the cinema and heartily affirmed that his would win big at the Oscars, I’m not sure this is going to triumph at those awards. However I can see it being an enduring success as more people discover it over the coming years and realise how very well put together it really is. As others have proven, getting a historical film like this right while maintaining the entertainment factor is not an easy accomplishment, but it all falls nicely into place here. I was engrossed from start to end, felt like I learnt a lot and most importantly I was thoroughly entertained.
‘Bridge of Spies’ was nominated at the 2016 Golden Globes though failed to win anything on the night. It has been nominated for 9 BAFTAs including ‘Best Film’, ‘Director’, ‘Original Screenplay’, ‘Supporting Actor’ for the great performance by Mark Rylance, as well as ‘Original Music’, ‘Cinematography’, ‘Editing’, the gorgeous ‘Production Design’ and ‘Sound’. It’s nominated for multiple Academy Awards including ‘Best Picture’, ‘Supporting Actor’, ‘Production Design’ and ‘Original Screenplay’ and others. It will soon be available in all the usual formats from the usual suppliers, I had an email yesterday to say it’s able to be pre-ordered.