"Bridge of Spies has been described as a thriller, but the thrills are incredibly sparse… This is an historical drama, and don’t be fooled into thinking it is a spy thriller, because it is not"
Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks have collaborated in movies three times before: on the critically-acclaimed Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me If You Can, and the adorable comedy-drama The Terminal. Due to their successful history, you would expect Bridge of Spies to be equally as powerful and brilliant as their predecessors, but it sadly falls short.
The drama is inspired by real events, and Hanks plays the real-life James B. Donovan, an insurance lawyer who is asked to defend Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) who is captured in Brooklyn during the Cold War in 1957.
Donovan is only asked simply so it appears America’s justice system is giving him a fair trial, they don’t actually want Donovan to defend him as rigorously as he does – and he is accused of being unpatriotic. However, Donovan knows keeping Abel alive could be a helpful bargaining chip in the future – and that is exactly what happens when U.S. pilot Francis Gary Powers, working for the CIA, is shot down over Russia and imprisoned. Donovan is given the job of negotiating the switch.
This has been described as a thriller, but the thrills are incredibly sparse. Those hoping for a shock twist, surprise death or some sort of heightened intensity will be disappointed. This is an historical drama, so don’t be fooled into thinking it is a spy thriller, because it is not. There are tense moments, certainly, but they are so fleeting. During exciting scenes, I wishfully think, “this is it; it is finally kicking things up a gear.” But it doesn’t, it reverts back to the regular drama.
Bridge of Spies is dialogue-heavy. There is very little action. About 80-90% of the movie is filled with Donovan chatting with Abel, Donovan chatting with the judge and Donovan talking with Soviet representatives in Germany. The dialogue is well-written, interesting and surprisingly funny at times, but there is simply too much of it, and this is a long film (141 minutes) so it really could have done with some action or serious drama to maintain momentum and intrigue.
The acting and direction is amazing, of course. Hanks is always reliable playing the humble unsung hero, but Rylance is the shining star. He has not done much film work, but he should, because Abel is fascinating and you had no idea if he’s guilty or not. Amy Ryan is brilliant as Donovan’s wife, scared of the repercussions his defence of Abel will cost the family, and Jesse Plemons should have had a bigger part as Powers’ pilot friend.
It looks amazing. Scenes of soldiers building the Berlin Wall are powerful and quite moving, especially watching citizens fatally attempt to cross it. The Bridge in the title is the Potsdam Bridge, which connected East and West Berlin at the time. The entire film had been building up to this tense exchange and I was waiting with baited breath for something dramatic to occur, but it doesn’t. Another instance where the so-called spy thriller lacks thrills.
Everything was in place for this to be a stellar movie – fantastic actors, solid direction from Spielberg and an incredible true story. It is just a shame the length of the movie, and the sheer amount of dialogue dampened down the remarkable story and took the excitement and thrills out of it.