“Bridge of Spies” is Capra-esque / John LeCarre mythmaking with Tom Hanks as equal parts Mr. Smith and one of Smiley’s people and Steven Spielberg applying the flawless visual touches he brought to films like “Lincoln.”
This time Spielberg and Hanks, who revived interest in the greatest generation with “Saving Private Ryan” set the way back machine for a Cold War espionage tale about superpower surrogates that unfolds against the backdrop of the division of Germany and building of the Berlin Wall.
Former Milwaukeean Mark Rylance plays a Soviet spy, as mild-mannered as he is plain-looking, his scowling grey anonymity topped by a furrowed and balding brow.
Hanks is a successful and affable insurance attorney who, when Rylance is arrested for espionage, draws the short straw and is elected to defend him.
But Hanks’ aggressive pursuit of truth, justice and the American way makes him a fellow traveler in the eyes of those looking for a quick and dirty resolution.
A parallel story is about the U2 spy plane program and pilot Gary Powers shot down and captured while on a reconnaissance mission 70,000 feet above Russia.
He was judged sharply at the time for not killing himself and destroying his plane full of classified material, and Spielberg does the neat trick here of making the Russian the more appealing of the pair.
When Hanks is sent on a non-official CIA mission to swap Powers for Rylance, his demand that the East Germans also release an American student trapped in East Germany gums up the deal.
This is often powerful, always chock a block storytelling – from a screenplay co-written by Ethan and Joel Coen and Matt Charman. It is a functional dramatization of complex events, by a director whose films can be so structurally efficient as to be airless. Enter Hanks.
Hanks – this is their fourth film together among several other projects – brings a humanity Spielberg can lack. And the nooks and crannies of his real life character – easygoing family man, hard nosed negotiator, empathetic enough to see Rylance as honorable – are tailored for Hanks’ (affluent) Everyman skill set.
The award-winning stage actor Rylance was born in England and moved to the Milwaukee area in 1969. His father taught at University School and Rylance appeared in stage productions while a student there.
Spielberg’s trademark showy presentation – blinding backlights, silhouette, fog, snow – dares you to not admire it while heightening events for us emotionally. He subtly captures the era’s manners and mores – family dinners, duck and cover, the way personal security feels threatened by global events – and the vintage costumes and production design elements, some of them digital, cloak events in credibility.
The various set pieces are so effective as to be called Spielbergian: the brick-by-brick building of the Berlin Wall down the middle of a street dividing neighbors on either side; Powers horrifying ejection from his plane just before impact; an umbrella wielding Hanks pursued down a dark street in the pouring rain.
Almost unnoticeable is the way a head cold is passed from Rylance to Hanks to a CIA handler in Germany. It’s the only “viral” scene in a film nostalgic for the days when global disagreements were linear affairs.
Though Russia has lately re-emerged as America’s geopolitical nemesis, the events portrayed here can seem like ancient history compared to the fragmented, never-ending and insoluble conflicts of today.
Except to suggest things were ever thus.
3 1/2 stars ***1/2
With Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda, Amy Ryan, Austin Stowell, Michael Gaston, Jesse Plemons, Scott Shepherd.
Produced by Kristie Macosko, Mark Platt, Steven Spielberg.
Written by Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Matt Charman.
Directed by Steven Spielberg.
Rated PG-13, tension, violence, language.
Approximate running time: 141 minutes.
Tags: Bridge of Spies, Hanks, Rylance, Spielberg Posted by