Bridge of Spies, the latest from director Steven Spielberg (and his first film since 2012’s Lincoln), starts innocently enough. An elderly gentleman sits in his Brooklyn apartment in 1957, painting a self-portrait. A phone call sends him out into the street, where an unidentified gentleman is waiting to tail the man to his destination. The older man shakes the tail without much effort and arrives at a park bench, picks up a coin stuck to the underside of the bench, and returns home. Using a razor blade, the man slices the coin open and pulls out a folded paper with nondescript code all over it. Who is he? Who’s tailing him? And what’s the code for?
We learn that the man is Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a Soviet Spy uncovering secrets about the United States’ nuclear weapons program. When he’s arrested by the FBI, his case is handed to insurance lawyer Jim Donovan (Tom Hanks), who is none too eager to defend the accused spy.
Part espionage thriller, part Cold War set piece, and part legal drama, Bridge of Spies is yet another masterpiece from one of cinema’s greatest directors. While Spielberg may be best known for popcorn fare like Jurassic Park, Jaws, and E.T., let’s not forget this is the same man who gave us what is arguably the 90s’ most powerful and important film– Schindler’s List, along with similar classics likeMunich and Saving Private Ryan. And though Bridge of Spies may not have the humanitarian resonance of those films, it’s just as superbly crafted.
WIth his trusted cinematographer Janusz Kaminski by his side, Spielberg proves yet again why he’s among the best. Whether it’s focusing on period details (you’ll swear the film was actually made in the late 50s) or getting sublime performances from his cast (Hanks and Rylance make it look so easy), he’s simply proven time and time again how to make a great movie.
Working from a smart, powerful script by the Coen Brothers and Matt Charman, Spielberg deftly switches back and forth between the Donovan/Abel plot and that of downed U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell), whose capture in 1960 serves as the other half of the story.
The film brings the Cold War (including the rise of the Berlin Wall) into clear focus, and though much of the tension and drama is cerebral instead of physical, the movie is no less entertaining.
A beautifully understated film, Bridge of Spies never relies on gimmicks or an amped up/exaggerated story to suck the audience in. There’s more than enough in the real history to keep us fascinated and riveted, and in Spielberg’s and Hanks’ trusty hands, Bridge of Spies has already emerged as one of the best of the year so far and a sure-fire contender come Oscar-time.