I loved this movie. Loved. It. I couldn’t stand the last Spielberg film I saw, which was “Lincoln” (aside from Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance I was bored stiff) and before that “War Horse” (overly sentimental), nor do I have much interest in spy stories (I fell asleep during the most recent film based on a John Le Carre novel). But “Bridge of Spies” got such great reviews today and Michael loves anything having to do with the CIA, so off we went. And I was riveted from the opening credits.
Based on a true story that I didn’t remember from my history books, Tom Hanks plays James Donovan, an insurance lawyer who is tapped to defend Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (played by the great Mark Rylance in a best supporting actor-caliber performance) in order to arrange an exchange for American spy-plane pilot Francis Powers, who’s being held in a Russian prison. Donovan rises to the occasion and mounts a spirited defense of Abel, risking the wrath of his fellow Americans, including his family, and soon becomes embroiled in espionage involving the intelligence communities of the USA, Russia and East Germany.
The story moves at a brisk pace, despite the movie’s nearly two-and-a-half-hour running time, and the plot hurdles toward an extremely tense and touching finale that left me both breathless and weeping. Yes, I actually shed tears at the end of a spy movie! The ending is uplifting and full of patriotism without being in-your-face-rah-rah. And the cinematography is outstanding. It not only captures 1950s era New York but also the bleakness of East Germany. And the script is great, thanks to a rewrite by the inimitable Coen brothers, who inserted humor in what might have been an otherwise grim film.
I can’t recommend “Bridge of Spies” highly enough. I expected it to be prestige-type Best Picture Oscar bait, but I didn’t expect it to move me the way it did. I was on such a high leaving the theater that I forgot my Yankees cap and had to go back and fish it out from between the seats. If the rest of the fall/winter movies are this good, it will be a stellar Oscar season for sure.