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Film Review by Don Gibble: Bridge of Spies


Film Review by Don Gibble:
Bridge of Spies 

By Don Gibble

Steven Spielberg is back fellow movielovers! This is his first film since “Lincoln” three years ago and is his fourth collaboration with Tom Hanks. For people of Spielberg’s generation, the early years of the nuclear era and the stand-off between the United States and the Soviet Union represents a significant part of the fabric of childhood. With the passage of time, it’s possible to tell stories of the time without furnishing them with overt propagandistic overlays, and for Westerners there is the added built-in appeal of the “we won” factor and the perception that dealing with adversaries was so much simpler then than it is now.

As their focus in this impeccably rendered recreation of a moment in history, most palpably represented by the building of the Berlin Wall, Spielberg and screenwriters Matt Charman and Ethan and Joel Coen have chosen a sort-of Atticus Finch of the north, a principled, American Everyman insurance attorney unexpectedly paged to represent a high-level Soviet spy caught in New York. There is no question that Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) is guilty, but James B. Donovan (Hanks), a proper and decent family man with a professional dedication to his client and an abiding loyalty to the principles of the U.S. Constitution, has a quick and intuitive read of any legal situation and shrewdly stays at least one step ahead of the game in almost any situation.

The story plays out over a period of five years, from the time when British-born Soviet spy Abel is captured in 1957 to the suspenseful moment in February 1962 when Abel is traded by the U.S. for captured U-2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers, who had been shot down in 1962, and an American student, Frederic Pryor. The wonderfully comprehensive but unstressed detailing of 1950s American life in the opening stretches slides the viewer ever so smoothly into the period, with a very different Brooklyn and New York subway system serving as convincing backdrops to the FBI’s pursuit of Soviet agent Abel as he paints a landscape on a lovely afternoon.

Plucked from the prosperous law firm where he is a partner to represent the resilient sad-sack of a client, Donovan has no chance of winning the case, but uncannily presents a strong argument for not putting Abel to death. All the same, his victory in this matter makes him seem disloyal, even traitorous; fellow subway riders give him the evil eye, his legal colleagues give him the cold shoulder and his house is even attacked at one point.

Hanks makes Donovan into another of the actor’s Everyman characters, but one with very particular American “greatest generation” characteristics, such as unselfishness, modesty and fundamental adherence to core principles he’s been raised to value and live by. Rylance, one of the greatest ofcontemporary stage actors, has to date had only an intermittent screen career, but “Bridge of Spies” suggests that could be about to change. He brings fascination andvery, very subtle comic touches to a man who has made every effort to appear as bland, even invisible, as possible. The entire cast is engaging down the line. This film will receive many Oscar nominations. See this one in the theaters!