So, now that I have ‘officially’ joined WordPress, I thought I’d like to blog about one of my favourite things in the World: movies. Today, I caught the ‘First Day, First Show’ of BRIDGE OF SPIES. So, without further ado, here we go:
Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks have always been a lethal combination. Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, Catch Me If You Can, The Pacific. Somehow, all of their work as a team has worked.
BRIDGE OF SPIES is based around two significant incidents of the Cold War: The arrest of Rudolf Abel, an alleged Soviet spy and the 1960 U2 Incident, where CIA pilot Francis Gary Powers was captured in the USSR after his spy plane is hit over the Soviet Union. The two stories seem completely different. On one hand, you have Abel, who has apparently been passing on information to the Soviets about the going-ons in the USA. On the other hand is Francis Gary Powers, a former USAF officer who is charged with espionage after his plane is hit 70,000 feet above sea level and it is found that the aircraft was capturing photographs of Soviet territory.
Enter James B. Donovan, an insurance lawyer from Brooklyn, New York. Donovan had been a part of Justice Robert Jackson’s prosecution team at the historic Nuremberg Trials. He is assigned to defend Abel. The defence is supposed to be a charade. Just a charade to show the world that the USA believe in meting out justice even to criminals. Donovan doesn’t see it that way. He defends Abel to the best of his ability. Abel is awarded thirty years in prison for his ‘crimes’. Meanwhile, in the Soviet Union, Powers is convicted to ten years in prison for ‘espionage’. The East Germans build the Berlin Wall, separating the Eastern and Western Sectors of the capital city. Meanwhile, a student at the Free University of West Berlin, Frederic Pryor, is caught (by error) on the wrong side of the Wall during its construction and is accused of and arrested for being a spy. The rest of the plot revolves around how Donovan negotiates with the Soviets for the release of Powers and with East Germans for the release of Pryor, both in exchange for Abel.
- DIRECTION: Steven Spielberg directs with his usual flair. The man has some extra-ordinary talent. Especially with films having a war background (Schindler’s List; Saving Private Ryan; Munich; War Horse). You can clearly see the liberties he has given to his cast and crew with the film, but there is the definitely the Spielberg touch to the film.
- STORY: Largely based on James B. Donovan’s memoirs ‘Strangers On A Bridge’, the team of writers (Matt Charman and Ethan & Joel Coen) bring out a beautiful story.
- CINEMATOGRAPHY: Janusz Kaminski has done a marvellous job behind the camera. The shots seem as if they’ve actually been taken in the ’50s and ’60s.
- SET/COSTUME/VFX: The sets are brilliantly done. One cannot possibly imagine that the film has been shot in the 21st century. The Making of the film also shows how well each area has been replicated or been replaced by another city for shooting purposes. Each character fits beautifully into their costumes, which further enhances the look of the film and makes the characters even more believable. The VFX, though not used a lot (the film was shot mostly on location), is showcased fabulously, especially in the scenes depicting the skies and the Peshawar Air Force Station.
- MUSIC: Thomas Newman’s background score really sets up the film engagingly.
- EDITING: Michael Kahn’s editing is sharp and tight, though not many would have had a problem had the film gone on for ten-fifteen minutes more. Editing plays a massive role in such a film and Kahn does his job almost masterfully.
- DIALOGUE: It’s cheeky, sensitive, sensible and just dramatic enough. It delivers more than the ordinary punch.
- PERFORMANCES: Mark Rylance delivers a mind-blowing performance as Rudolf Abel. A meek but intelligent character is played out really well by the actor. Young Noah Schnapp deserves a round of applause as Roger, Donovan’s son. All of the supporting cast perform admirably, the stand-outs being Scott Shepherd and Austin Stowell. Tom Hanks is, as always, amazing. He deserves a standing ovation for this performance. (How many ovations does that make?) He transforms into James B. Donovan. He becomes the character. His chemistry with Mark Rylance is very well-executed, as is his chemistry with Scott Shepherd.
BRIDGE OF SPIES is a must-watch for anyone with the following attributes:
A. Common sense and an understanding of sensible things.
B. A Cold War buff.
C. A person who genuinely enjoys films.
D. A Spielberg-Hanks fan.
E. All of the above!
If I had to rate this film like the so-called ‘professional’ film critics, I’d give it 9/10.