Bridge of Spies is a historical movie directed by Stephen Spielberg about the Cold War after World War II between former allies and now adversaries, the US and the USSR. The movie is about the negotiations between the two powers over spies that were apprehended in the other's country---the USSR spy is hiding in a New York City apartment, painting pictures, and sending messages to his USSR superiors in coins. The US spy is Air Force pilot, Gary Powers, who flies a spy plane over the USSR to take pictures of industry of importance for the US. He is shot down in a very spectacular manner and doesn't take his medicine, a poison pill in a coin. The USSR puts him on trial and in prison while they use sleep deprivation methods among others to break him and make him talk.
Tom Hanks plays a Brooklyn Insurance lawyer who is randomly chosen by the powers that be to defend the caught USSR spy, played by Mark Rylance, in the US court. Hanks' defense isn't important, Rylance is going to jail regardless. After Rylance is imprisoned, Hanks' lawyer receives a letter from Rylance's supposed wife. It is from TPTB in the USSR, they are ready for a prisoner swap and they are sending out propositions for an exchange.
The movie is about Tom Hanks' lawyer character's metamorphosis from amiable family man and ordinary American lawyer to wily negotiator of Spy Exchanges. He not only obtains the freedom of Gary Powers after much subterfuge and red herrings, but he also rescues an American economics doctorate student from an East German jail after the Berlin Wall begins to go up and physically sets the parameters of the Cold War. After this spy exchange, his character is later chosen by the US government this time to negotiate the freedom of the Bay of Pigs invaders of Cuba and their relatives, but that is not in this movie.
Like any Spielberg movie, this film has excellent acting, production, and plot. The Coen brothers are credited with the script and the writing and artfully re-occurring themes reflect their meticulous work.
No directors other than Spielberg, D.W. Griffith, and Sergei Eisenstein can or could do crowd scenes with such perfection, and Spielberg does a beautiful and flawless sequence in the film with the arrest and detention of the American economics student in East Berlin. And Spielberg's cinematography has style. He has limited himself to muddy grays and brown in this color film to imitate the Cold War era films in black and white, but the photography is sharp as black and white and oddly beautiful in its chosen monotones of ugliness. See the film, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, to see what Spielberg is basing his movie design on and to see how well he achieves that effect in color.
Spielberg is a Master who has never lost his touch in the art and technique of the technical side of film making. Rather like Dickens, he can be too sentimental at times with the characters and story, but like Dickens, he has the genius and style and art to transcend what ever might be perceived by this generation as a defect and present an almost flawless product. His excesses are his trademarks that he can sometimes use to his advantage.
Mark Rylance plays the Zen USSR spy, he is surprised by nothing and expects nothing, with a stillness that draws the viewer to him. He plays the character much like he played Thomas Cromwell in the BBC production of Wolf Hall. Quiet, still, monotone voice, and compacted body language. It works well in both protrayals. In Bridge of Spies, he has no power but his failure as a spy. In Wolf Hall, he has all the power of a kingdom at his command.
Tom Hanks takes the acting honors for me. He plays the typical genial, hearty, helpful American type who is not as naive or gullible as others might think. And he has the stubborness of what he considers to be his righteous cause and will not compromise on it in a game of compromises and negotiations and the face, if not the content, of power.
Amy Ryan is almost unrecognizable as the Hanks character's wife in this movie. Compare this protrayal to her character in Gone Baby Gone. You'll see why I was flummoxed at first when I watched her. I knew her from somewhere, she can't change her face, but I couldn't place her at first. OK, she can change her face, it is HOLLYWOOD, but she doesn't and she doesn't need to; she's got the acting chops to make herself over without the aid of a plastic surgeon or a really good make up artist.
The movie does start slowly, Rylance is like a little gray mouse without a huge piece of pizza to draw attention to himself, and the movie starts with him and his arrest. But after the arrest, Hanks comes in and livens up the movie and brings in the viewer's attention. After all, Hanks is a STAR and for very good reasons. The camera and the audience will always be interested in him and follow him.
Recommended. Now this is how you make a spy movie, Man From UNCLE.