When the names Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Joel and Ethan Coen are on the same film you might imagine you would have something special, and certainly Oscar worthy. In the case of Bridge Of Spies, the new Cold War thriller that premiered over the weekend at the New York Film Festival, you will not be disappointed.
As I said in my initial report on the NYFF unveiling Sunday, this is a masterful achievement from Spielberg, a film that may be his finest ever. That’s a tall statement I admit, since we are talking about the man behind Schindler’s List, E.T., and Saving Private Ryan, among many others. But as I say in my video review (click the link above), this incredible true story particularly resonates for the rocky and shaky times we are in, a current era devoid of true stand-up American figures of decency and dignity, as well as a period where relations between the U.S. and the Russians are once again tense.
Make no mistake, Bridge Of Spies is definitely a period piece, starting in 1957 and continuing through 1962 with the Berlin Wall. But in the main character of James Donovan, a small-time insurance lawyer thrust into something much larger and more imposing that he could ever imagine, we have a kind of simple yet heroic family man in the mold of Atticus Finch of To Kill A Mockingbird — a film Bridge Of Spies bears some resemblance to, mostly in feeling. And Hanks, delivering a solid and stirring performance minus any acting tricks or flash, is perhaps the best he has ever been in the kind of role James Stewart or Gregory Peck would have played in an earlier era. And this remarkable story, given great screenplay treatment by Matt Charman and Joel and Ethan Coen, will summon patriotic feelings from Americans longing for a time when people like Donovan could thrive and do the right thing, even if it was against popular public sentiment and will. He was not only smart, but empathetic, two great qualities in short supply these days.
Donovan was assigned to defend Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance, absolutely superb), a spy for the Soviets, who clearly was guilty. But even in the light of that and what happened to others at the time, Donovan convinced the judge there should be no death sentence, a very controversial move. But eventually it proved prescient when an American pilot, Francis Gary Powers, was captured in Soviet territory after ejecting from his burning spy plane. A prisoner swap was proposed, but it became complex when yet another young American was held.
The final third of the film dealing with all of this is not only a fascinating cat-and-mouse game by everyone involved, but also riveting cinema expertly shot by frequent Spielberg cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and edited by Michael Kahn. There’s also a great score provided by Thomas Newman filling in for Spielberg’s musical muse John Williams, who was unable to do this film. Production design by Oscar winner Adam Stockhausen (The Grand Budapest Hotel) is also first-rate evoking the era splendidly. Bridge Of Spies is a towering achievement and a high point in the careers of Spielberg, Hanks and the Coens. Easily one of this year’s best.
In addition to Hanks and Rylance, the excellent cast includes Amy Ryan as Donovan’s wife, Alan Alda, Scott Shepherd, Austin Stowell, Will Rogers, Sebastian Koch and Mikhail Gorevoy. The producing entities are DreamWorks Pictures, Fox 2000 Pictures and Reliance Entertainment in association with Participant Media. Producers are Spielberg (also sporting his Amblin label), Marc Platt and Krisite Macosko Krieger. It is being released thru Disney’s Touchstone Pictures label on October 16.
Do you plan to see Bridge Of Spies? Let us know what you think.