“Everyone will hate me, but at least I’ll lose.”
It’s fair to say the advertising for Bridge of Spies has been rather lackluster. Neither posters nor adverts have done much to sell the film. Yet, Spielberg should. Jaws, Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List are just some of his headline acts, and Spielberg has consistently delivered quality outside of such monumental cultural significance. Here I cite The Color Purple alongside fellow Hanks collaborations Catch Me if You Can and The Terminal. These films are not past glories. These are his trademark. A seal of quality that is almost without anomaly. As cynical as one may be about the triple-Oscar-winner’s current prowess or the potential of his latest picture, quieten any qualms.
Bridge of Spies is a Cold War To Kill a Mockingbird. Without attempting the courtroom humanity that Gregory Peck sparkled with half a century ago, Bridge of Spies readily references the heart of Harper Lee’s classic. The American justice system is on trail as much as is Rudolf Ivanovich Abel (Rylance), as James Donovan (Hanks) fights the scourge of injustice within his own nation. Donovan’s subversive campaign for a fair trial mirrors that of Atticus Finch, revealing similar reactions and dangers. Yet, whilst it is the lawyer who dominates the attention in To Kill a Mockingbird, it is the accused who is most captivating in this frosty tale.
Mark Rylance’s supporting performance as Rudolf Abel is one of the finest seen on screen this year. He brings a swagger-less assurance to every movement of the accused Soviet spy, creating an air of calm that permeates the walls of the picture. His serenity keeps the film rooted, removing the urgency that could rush the opening. His presence allows the film to relish in silence and inaction, whilst Hanks’ fluster spins somewhere off centre.
The second half is a different creature. As the film moves abroad, the film feels more detached from the powerful legal battle into an international chess game, calmness swapped for deception and uncertainty. The parties are shrouded behind smiles and smirks, leaving a slight yearning to hitch back onto the first track.
Russian and American comparison shots flood in, with much care taken not to defame America’s European opposites, with treatment and procedure in the Red state largely handled with as much professionalism as those across the pond. A tame interrogation sequence threatens to change that, but it is given such little importance that it hardly matters.
The sunny American outlook never truly dims and it really doesn’t matter. Spielberg steers this ship with such confidence that it is nothing but a virtuous picture. It slightly may lose sight of its beginnings in the second half, but entertains all the same. Whilst it is hard to connect with every character with the same interest as with Rudolf, the quality of composition masks any such issues.
Whilst gleeful injections of Coen Brothers humor break the ice, the age-old expertise of Hanks, Spielberg and Rylance ensure this bird doesn’t get out of hand.
Header courtesy of teaser-trailer. Images courtesy of zekefilm and Dreamworks/Disney respectively.