Welcome to another movie review! This time, it’s a review of another Oscar contender! I have actually seen this film almost two weeks ago, but, due to the revision for the exams, I had no time to review it. Anyway, I found a spare minute, so, let’s talk about Bridge of Spies!
IMDb summary: During the Cold War, an American lawyer is recruited to defend an arrested Soviet spy in court, and then help the CIA facilitate an exchange of the spy for the Soviet captured American U2 spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers.
This year, I have seen way too many films about spies and special agents. Some of them were really nice (Rogue Nation), others (Hitman) – not really. It’s a good thing that Bridge of Spies falls into the first category. The film is set during the cold word and its narrative is inspired by real life events. We have already seen a spy film set in the cold war years in 2015 – The Man from U.N.C.L.E. However, that film was a remake of a TV show and had a more fun, upbeat tone and was a popcorn flick/action film. Bridge of Spies, although set in the same era, approaches the USA vs USSR conflict in a more serious manner – it’s definitely not an action film, but suspenseful thriller/drama.
The film was directed by the famous Steven Spielberg. Spielberg is probably the first director that I have ever been interested in, even before I became really invested in films and cinema and was just a casual viewer. I couldn’t even pick my favorite movie of his, because he has directed so many films, that are now considered classics. I really love his movies from 1993 – Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List. Saving Private Ryan, E.T., Jaws and Indiana Jones films are all wonderful as well. Moreover, did you know that Spielberg was in talk to direct a Star Wars film? Sadly, that didn’t happen, but if it had happened, it would have been amazing.
Spielberg, not surprisingly, did a great job with this film as well. All the shots were beautiful and suspenseful. I especially loved the train/wall shot. It had an emotional impact and was beautifully done.
Bridge of Spies script was written by Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, and Joel Coen. Charman has previously only written one film – a WW2 drama – Suite Française, while the Coen brothers have written numerous critically acclaimed and Oscar-winning films, their last one being Jolie’s Unbroken.
Speaking about this film’s narrative and screenplay – I liked how, although made in the US and by American filmmakers, it did not offer any judgment and presented or at least tried to present both sides of the story and not just the American view on the Cold War.
In addition, I found it interesting how this film had two different stories. Th 1st act of the film was the story of the court case while the 2nd part was the exchange in East Berlin. There wasn’t really the 3rd act in the film, although, a few scenes at the end (the resolution/the aftermath) could be considered to be the 3rd act.
This film also had amazing dialogue and a lot of lines worth quoting. The character development was also quite good.
The film explored lots of serious themes and asked a few historical questions, which are highly debated in the scientific circles as well. I am actually writing this review the night before my history exam, so my head is buzzing with various names of historians and their arguments on the different controversial topics. One thing I have definitely learned from this course (Uni of Aberdeen’s Europe in the 20th century) is that history is not set. It’s not an objective subject, it’s not just set facts and dates – I have never thought that history has so much subjectivity and debate. However, let me end this paragraph the same way I ended my history essay – with a C. Hitchen’s quote: “Time spent arguing is, oddly enough, almost never wasted.”
So, the few themes and questions touched upon in this film were:
- Humanity: people are still people, even in war.
- The hypocrisy of rights: American values of liberty and equality are universal, but only to the privileged and the Western. (Read S.Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations for an interesting take on the universality of the Western values).
- Who actually won the Cold War? I personally would say that USSR definitely lost the war, but I am not sure that the USA won anything. Americans tend to think that they helped the USSR to fall, but, I have a different opinion since I grew up in Eastern Europe – the most common view there is that the Cold War ended because of the actions of the oppressed people and not because of the questionable help from the West. But that’s a debate for a different conversation. (Found more info about it in M. Sarotte’s book The Collapse.)
- The Berlin wall and its symbolic meaning. I was born 7-8 years after the wall fell and when I was 13, I visited Berlin and saw the remains of it that are now turned into a memorial. It’s a very strong and heartbreaking image that rallies up lots of emotions, whenever I remember it. Also, on a lighter note, I have that cliche magnet with a piece of the Berlin Wall on my fridge.
- Nation vs individual. Are nation states even a good thing for organizing people into groups? Plus, Hank’s character presented as a silent hero – not just an American one, but a hero of humanity.
- The names of the countries. I have always been annoyed by people who call countries by the wrong names. Living in Scotland, it annoys me immensely when people say the UK and have only England in mind. I had the same problem with the film – characters usually said Russia when meaning the Soviet Union, which was a UNION of countries. It’s true that Russia was the leading country and occupied a lot of its neighbors and kept them in the union against their will (my country – Lithuania – included). However, when acknowledging that USSR was a union of countries, we at least acknowledge the existence and uniqueness of other Eastern European countries – they were not Russia and will never be Russia. I feel very annoyed about this issue, because these past few months, I have been meeting lots of people from all over the world and not a lot of them actually know where Lithuania is. They think that the territory of Lithuania belongs to either Poland or Russia. The ignorance reaches the highest level, when, for some people, Europe ends with Germany and the maps in their minds are missing all of the Baltic countries, Belarus, Ukraine and other central/eastern/former Yugoslavian countries.
- Tom Hanks as James B. Donovan was the leading man of the film. This was the 4th or 5th time that Hanks collaborated with Spielberg. He did an amazing job with his dialogue and I also loved how you could see a mix of emotions on his face during the intense scenes. His character was also really likable the same way that Hanks is one of the most likable actors ever. It’s hard for me to pick my favorite Hank’s performance. I really enjoyed his later work in Cloud Atlas, Saving Mr. Banks, and Captain Phillips as well as his earlier work in Forrest Gump and The Green Mile.
- Mark Rylance as Rudolf Abel/the soviet spy. I am not familiar with Rylance’s work but I have really enjoyed his performance in this film. I liked how emotionless he was. The line: ‘Would it help?’ was funny and showed the true horribleness of that situation.
- Austin Stowell as Francis Gary Powers/the American pilot. I am also not familiar with his work, although, he starred in one of my favorite films from last year – Whiplash. He was okay in this film as well, nothing about his performance stood out to me that much.
- Jesse Plemons as Murphy played a friend of Powers and Plemons performance stood out to me more, maybe because I am more familiar with him as an actor. The same day, I have also watched another movie of his – Black Mass (review coming next). He was also in 2012’s Battleship, which I and my dad enjoyed while critics destroyed it. Anyway, speaking about Plemons, to me he looks like a very charismatic actor, who for some reason just attracts all the attention when he appears on the screen. Good for him and not so good for other actors, placed near him in a shot.
That’s basically all the actors that played the main roles in the narrative or had the best performances. The full list of actors is on the IMDb page right here.
All in all, I really enjoyed Bridge Of Spies. I loved Hank’s performance as well as Spielberg’s directing, although, the writing to me seemed like the strongest part of the film and I really hope that all the scriptwriters will get an Oscar nominations. I am sorry that this review was more a contextual and conceptual one while my other reviews are usually more formal and deal with the actual film and not so much with its themes. I just wanted to try something new and use my new found knowledge on the historical debates.
Have a great rest of the week!
Trailer: Bridge of Spies trailer