Steven Spielberg’s return to form is a gripping Cold War drama, centred on terrific performances from Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance.
Steven Spielberg, uniquely for a director so far into his career, is full of surprises. He bounces between sci-fi epics, family adventures, intimate dramas and historical biopics with ease, and his latest venture in the latter two categories is a particularly enthralling project. Bridge of Spies portrays the work of US insurance lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks) in, first, representing imprisoned Soviet spy Rudolf Abel at an intentionally-staged “fair” trial, and then travelling to West Berlin to co-ordinate the exchange of Abel for a crash-landed US pilot. The division of the film into two distinct acts works tremendously well, with Hanks given room to work with the Donovan character in very different contexts, and the Coen Brothers-polished script providing consistently fascinating historical insight. Unlike in some recent Spielberg work (we’re looking at you, Lincoln), the expository dialogue is fast, funny and rooted enough in the personality of the characters to keep up with the pace of the broader storytelling. The scenes between Hanks and Rylance, two astoundingly sharp screen presences at the top of their game, are captivating. Spielberg’s staging of the drama is as good as his leads’ work: Janusz Kamiński’s cinematography and Adam Stockhausen’s production design provide a stunning, snow-laden Berlin setting in the second act. Thomas Newman’s gentle score is used sparingly and to brilliant avail.
Bridge of Spies is entertaining, informative and artfully worthy: it’s Spielberg’s best film since War of the Worlds, and does exactly what a good historical film should: it makes its subject matter exciting, without diluting a single note.