Throwback Thursday: Bridge of Spies

Welcome to my Throwback Thursday feature. This will happen every other Thursday, and it is a fairly simple concept, where I will be reviewing something that has already been and gone. There isn’t any theme when it comes to these reviews, apart from that they will be released on a Thursday, so if anyone ever wants me to review something in particular, just leave a comment or drop me an email, and I’ll see what I can do!

I recently rewatched Steven Spielberg’s espionage thriller Bridge of Spies, so I thought I’d do a quick review.

Based on true events, this film follows lawyer James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks), who is forced to represent a suspected Soviet KGB spy, Rudolf Abel. (Mark Rylance) This sequence of events leads to Donovan being entrusted with the responsibility of negotiating the release of captured pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) in exchange for Abel.

I’m a bit of a history nerd, and I’m fascinated by anything related to the Cold War, so this film was really appealing to me at the time and I found myself equally fascinated by it upon rewatching. The film does an exceptional job of capturing the attitudes and political tensions from all sides involved in this conflict. Everything feels so authentic, and it serves as a staunch reminder of a time where the world could have collapsed in a flurry of nuclear bombs. Seeing the hatred and disdain that the American citizens have for the Soviets, and vice-versa, is both unsettling and interesting. It’s sometimes hard to believe that these events are still quite recent history for us all, and it at times allows the audience to question whether that much has changed today.

This film has a 2 hour 20 runtime, and it can sometimes be quite slow at times, but it is never once boring. This is a very mature film, adopting an almost classic form of storytelling. It’s refreshing to see a film based around conflict that doesn’t need to resort to a multitude of CGI action sequences and explosions (this only happens once, but it is relevant and brief), this film is totally grounded, the tension comes in the form of wondering what the next move will be in this convoluted game of political chess, and it is a joy to watch these moves unfold, the Coen Brothers wrote the script and it is also amusing to see elements of humour bubble to the surface during exchanges that really could be the difference between life and death, it feels incredibly human and you could imagine that this is how some of the negotiations really did happen. It’s interesting to see how both sides deal with a situation that couldn’t have higher stakes, you get the vibe that both powers desperately want to reach an amicable resolution, because they all know what the alternative is, however, at the same time ensuring they don’t show any semblance of weakness against their enemy. Nothing in the negotiation stage of the film ever feels too dramatised, and I appreciate that, because there’s a lot more power in something that feels raw and real.

The performances in this film are exceptional, and it’s no surprise that Mark Rylance won an Oscar for his portrayal of Rudolf Abel, who remains a complete mystery for the duration of the film, but he possesses a very subtle charm and gravitas that elevates any scene he is involved in, he’s actually quite likable, which is an intriguing dynamic when one could argue that from the American perspective, he is a villain. Watching his relationship with Donovan grow from one of initial contempt (on Donovan’s part) to something you could almost say was akin to a friendship is brilliant, and it is executed to perfection. Tom Hanks is, as usual, fantastic as Donovan, playing him as a very witty and methodical person, who also has plenty of moments to shine with epic speeches about American justice and the morals on display in the Cold War. You find yourself hanging on his every word and he owns every scene he is in, but would you really expect anything less from one of the greatest actors of our time?

Overall, this film is beautifully crafted, with incredible cinematography and shots, it’s extremely interesting and filled with sublime performances. It’s no surprise that it got a number of Oscar nods and it was regarded as one of the best films of 2015. Whether you know the outcome of the story or not, this film captures the tension of the Cold War perfectly, and it’s a joy to see the different dynamics and actions of both sides and the importance that a single man could have on the grander stage. It is patriotic and does celebrate America’s integrity and their efforts in the Cold War (which some may dispute), but it never feels preachy or overbearing, it’s got just the right amount of political bias.

If you’re a thrill-seeker and looking for something a bit action packed, then this isn’t the film for you. But if you’re a fan of historic, political dramas… They don’t come much better than Bridge of Spies. 

I give Bridge of Spies a 9/10.

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