The Cold War served warm
Philip Cu-Unjieng (The Philippine Star) - October 15, 2015 - 10:00am

Film review: Bridge of Spies

MANILA, Philippines –  Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies is an entertaining and engrossing historical drama, that with the luxury of Father Time and hindsight, brings us back to the Cold War era; and looks for the warm, fuzzy and human within the strident, paranoid brinksmanship and struggle for information and intelligence that characterized that juncture in history. With insurance lawyer Jim Donovan (Tom Hanks) as our guide and moral compass, there is much to learn and appreciate about human values and ideals when set against nationalistic polemic and viewing life purely in blacks and whites.

The film basically revolves around two narratives that are presented in linear fashion -— a tribute to old-style cinematic storytelling. The first narrative involves accused Rudolf Abel (the brilliant Mark Rylance), who is tried for espionage as a Russian spy and branded a traitor. When Donovan surprisingly takes on the case as Abel’s defense attorney, we are thrust into the world of courtrooms and small minds ready to trample on Abel’s basic rights to a fair trial and his presumption of innocence. When Gary Powers, a USAF pilot in a spy reconnaissance plane is shot down over USSR territory and sentenced to prison, the second narrative of a high-stakes game of spy exchange that happens in Berlin, as the infamous Wall is being constructed, takes place. Without being officially sanctioned by the US government, it is Donovan who takes on the role of negotiator for the Powers/Abel swap — complicated by Donovan also trying to extricate a young American student from East Berlin.

In a role that half-a-century ago would have been given to Jimmy Stewart, Hanks plays Donovan with gruff charm and shafts of humor. Rylance, on the other hand, is one of the most gifted actors of his generation. The Englishman held the post of artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre for a decade. His portrayal of Abel is a surprisingly sympathetic one, such that we quietly root for him, even above Powers. Working from an original script by Matt Charman, but revisited by Joel and Ethan Coen, the revisit pays huge dividends as so often, we feel the Coen “magic” and are potently reminded of the very human amidst all this politicking and dissembling. I loved the little touches like how in the midst of a serious negotiation between Donovan and the East German attorney general, the East German official is seen picking up the wrong phone. Or how Rylance repeats a line at different points in the film and defuses the scene wonderfully! I wouldn’t be surprised if Rylance gets a Best Supporting Actor nomination come Oscars time.

The cinematography is also top-rate, especially the rain drenched Brooklyn scenes and those of East Berlin, where the color is practically washed out, and we’re left with somber hues of blues. What I did observe is how Spielberg takes an almost subversive stance with the film by making both Donovan and Abel the “little heroes” of the film — glossing over Abel’s guilt. Some 40 years ago, this stance would have made Spielberg’s interpretation practically un-American. Fortunately for us, times have changed, attitudes have evolved — and this film is a reminder of what lies underneath and makes all of us fundamentally alike.

  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?
Login is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with