Pete Hammond badge“If they dropped a bomb here we would have no one left to write about awards season,” one publicist joked about the eager and heavy turnout of bloggers, critics, and other mainstays of Oscar spitballing that showed up at today’s 1 PM (PT) screening of Steven Spielberg’s much-awaited Bridge Of Spies at West Hollywood’s London Hotel. This screening was held by Disney (whose Touchstone label, with DreamWorks, Amblin, Fox 2000 Pictures and Participant Media along with Reliance Entertainment are the main entities behind the film) to coincide with the first press screening in New York, where the film had its world premiere Sunday night as part of the 53rd annual New York Film Festival.

As the end credits rolled it received massive applause and standing ovation. In terms of NYFF it really is the only other previously unseen piece of the Oscar-season puzzle the fest is offering up this year, so there was obviously going to be intense interest among those who cover this stuff religiously (like me, of course).

Bridge of Spies logoSo what’s the verdict?  From my point of view this completely engrossing and compelling Cold War spy drama is a masterful piece of filmmmaking — definitely one of Spielberg’s finest films, his best since Saving Private Ryan, and one that contains another great and solid turn from star Tom Hanks. He plays James Donovan, an insurance claims lawyer who after agreeing to defend a captured Soviet spy (Mark Rylance) finds himself smack in the middle of a Cold War showdown when he is sent to East Berlin to effect a prisoner exchange. I say solid because despite the dark hallmarks of many a classic noirish spy film with all the deception and duplicitous actions expected in the genre, Hanks plays an American stalwart who reminds me more of an Atticus Finch,  a man representing the American ideal in the sort of part Gregory Peck or James Stewart often played.

53rd New York Film Festival - "Bridge Of Spies" - ArrivalsIt’s not flashy, he’s not covered in makeup, but man is Hanks good. Of course he is the heir apparent to that kind of screen icon as he proved in Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and more recently in Captain Phillips, and inevitably in Clint Eastwood’s upcoming Sully Sullenberger hero pilot film that just started shooting. Watching this true story of this ordinary lawyer thrust into an extraordinary situation that tests his skills, will, and basic decency, I kept thinking we have gotten sooooo far away from this kind of quiet American hero in this hateful Internet-driven age that it is like watching someone that just doesn’t seem to exist anymore, or at least that movies want to portray. I certainly hope that is not the case, but at any rate Hanks’ performance reminds us of what once was.

53rd New York Film Festival - "Bridge Of Spies" - ArrivalsThe film, though a period piece that starts in 1957 , has a lot of pertinence for today as well, particularly since the cat-and-mouse games between the Americans and the Russians have again heated up. The script is simply outstanding, an original screenplay by Matt Charman and Ethan Coen and Joel Coen. You would expect a movie with the Coens’, Spielberg’s, and Hanks’ names on it to be an instant contender for Oscars. Certainly, Bridge Of Spies is that and then some. This is prime Academy fodder and I think you can rightly expect it to be a major player in Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor (for the great Rylance who plays Rudolf Abel, the spy in question), Thomas Newman’s score, editing, and cinematography from Spielberg regulars Michael Kahn and Janusz Kaminski respectively as well as top Production Design from Adam Stockhausen.

My full video review and longer print review will run Tuesday, but suffice to say this film should put Spielberg and company back in the awards hunt for the first time since Lincoln three years ago.