Those who relished 2011's espionage thriller Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy will enjoy this masterfully told Cold War spy story, directed, with restraint, by Steven Spielberg.
Much like Spielberg's last film, the historical drama, Lincoln, Bridge of Spies is a dialogue-driven, handsome and detailed period piece, which also features conversations about America's constitution and civil liberties. But if, like me, you struggled to stay awake through Lincoln, you'll be pleased to know Bridge of Spies is a lighter affair, infused with enough dry wit to balance the stirring speeches.
Watch the trailer for Bridge of Spies
Inspired by true events, Bridge of Spies is based on a Matt Charman screenplay that's been polished by Ethan and Joel Coen. It tells the story of James Donovan (Hanks), a Brooklyn lawyer who, much to the disapproval of his family and most of America, agrees to defend accused Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Rylance).
The year is 1957 and America is in the grip of the Cold War. Kids are doing how-to-survive-a-nuclear-bomb drills at school and the CIA is developing planes to fly at high altitude on spy missions over Russia. "It's an information war," the CIA tells Donovan as they try, and fail, to coerce him into sharing information about his client.
Donovan is a classic Spielberg hero, going above and beyond the call of duty and retaining his integrity and moral principles when it's difficult to do so.
Spielberg doesn't spend long on the court case as its verdict is a foregone conclusion, but the case does serve as an opportunity for the Americans to show their enemies how fairly they treat foreign spies. It's a lesson that pays off when a spy mission goes wrong and the Soviets capture and imprison a young American pilot, Francis Gary Powers.
When Abel's supposed family in East Berlin contacts Donovan, the CIA believes it's an opportunity to set up a prisoner exchange. Keen to retrieve the young pilot before he shares sensitive material but unwilling to be seen dealing with the KGB, the CIA asks Donovan to go on a secret mission to East Berlin to negotiate the exchange of Powers for his client, Abel.
This is Hanks' and Spielberg's fourth feature film together, and Hanks is superb as Donovan; a smart, compassionate family man who gets excited about being caught up in the Cold War. Hanks' performance is eminently likable but it's Mark Rylance's portrayal of the ironic, elusive Abel that adds some texture to this sombre all-male cast.
Bridge of Spies is a sharp, articulate film with meticulous attention to detail in its art direction and costume design. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski creates a noir feel with a muted palette that changes depending on location, But what's most striking is the lack of a musical score for at least the first 40 minutes, and though the musical score slowly grows, even as the film reaches its climax you're never overwhelmed.
Bridge of Spies is an incredibly well-made film that should be applauded for its craft and controlled tone, and will appeal to those looking for something more mature than a Bond film.
And yet, there's not quite enough suspense or surprise to keep you excited or guessing about the outcome.
Cast: Tom Hanks, Alan Alda, Mark Rylance
Director: Steven Spielberg
Running Time: 141 mins
Rating: M (Violence and offensive language)
Verdict: Old school spy movie for a mature crowd