Posted by: ckckred | October 26, 2015

Bridge of Spies


Since Schindler’s List, Steven Spielberg has been particularly attracted to the historical drama genre, since then producing Amistad, Saving Private Ryan, Munich, War Horse, and Lincoln. Those movies range in quality, from displaying acts of valor and nobility in a profound way (Ryan and Lincoln) to overly embracing Spielberg’s weakness of being cloying and excessively manipulative (War Horse). Yet the veteran director, who has spent over forty years exploring the core concept of heroism whether it be through Indiana Jones or Oskar Schindler, has rarely felt at ease as he does directing Bridge of Spies, which like Lincoln before it is honest without being strikingly gooey and sincere without coming across as unabashedly sentimental.

Bridge of Spies marks Spielberg’s fourth collaboration with Tom Hanks, after Ryan, Catch Me If You Can, and The Terminal. Hanks may be the perfect embodiment of Spielberg’s idealism of heroism, as the actor is one of the few people who is impossible to dislike no matter the role. In Bridge of Spies, Hanks plays James Donovan, a Brooklyn insurance lawyer assigned to defend English KGB spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), who is accused of stealing nuclear secrets from the U.S. government and faces a death sentence. Yet soon U-2 spy pilot Francis Powers (Austin Stowell) is captured by the Soviets, and whose knowledge of American spy craft technology poses a threat to the United States if the Soviets extracted such delicate information. Thus the two governments arrange to exchange each other’s prisoners in East Berlin, with Donovan acting as chief negotiator on the American side, despite holding no official U.S. government position.

Much like TV’s The Americans, Bridge of Spies is built upon the Cold War backdrop and temporal unease than action scenes (though the former is set during the Reagan-era period, whereas Spies takes place in 1957). The majority of Bridge of Spies’ second half focuses on Donovan’s meetings with various Soviet and East German officials about the trade-off of spies, with the icy cold scenery and the development of the Berlin Wall only adding to the frictional tension of the negotiations. Joel and Ethan Coen, who rewrote Matt Charman’s initial screenplay, inject some humor into the meetings, but what really carries the film are the contemporary political overtones. Whereas Lincoln acted as an extended metaphor for the Affordable Care Act, Bridge of Spies appears to the Iran Deal (though the film’s production timing makes this connection purely coincidental), with Donovan serving as a representation of John Kerry. Indeed Donovan’s frequent quarreling with C.I.A. heads about the exchange may serve to embody the current debating over the spearheads of the Iran Deal by Democrats and Republicans. Perhaps I’m reading too much into this forced connection for Bridge of Spies but regardless the association does seem to exist. Unlike movies such as The King’s Speech or Argo, which at best operated as middlebrow entertainment and at worst reflected the Oscars’ tendency to reward smug crowd pleasers, Bridge of Spies and Lincoln take the past and juxtapose it to the present.

It is also notable that Bridge of Spies marks the second time that John Williams has not composed a score for Spielberg (the previous occurrence was for The Color Purple), as Williams was ill earlier this year and unable to work on the picture. Thomas Newman filled William’s role, and the minimalist score fits Bridge of Spies admirably, not taking away from the film’s content.

Through Bridge of Spies, Steven Spielberg once again proves himself to be a master of emotions and moods, as the director renown for creating blockbusters movies into pieces with more political connotations. Whatever your stance may be on the Iran Deal, Bridge of Spies is a difficult film to dislike.


  1. I don’t think you are reading into the film’s politics too deeply, in fact that’s a brilliant observation and something I failed to see. Spielberg does in fact reflect contemporary politics through the lens of historical events, which is what really happens in reality anyway. Our present is merely molded by what has happened before. Quite simply that’s how you’d define ‘history.’ And I like that Spielberg has been going in a more historical direction for a while. He’s made some really great films, and i think Lincoln was one of the best. This is a great review

    • Thanks man. This and Lincoln are certainly much more than middlebrow Oscar bait; the political connotations show that Spielberg knows how to illustrate the present with the past.

  2. Nice review. Really interested to see this one as it looks rock solid. Yet for some reason I’m not just running to the theater to catch it. I can’t quite figure out my hesitation. Hopefully I’ll get it watched this week.

    • Thanks Keith. I actually wasn’t initially rushing to see this in theaters either but I did really like Bridge of Spies. Even though I was forced to sit in the front row of the auditorium I enjoyed every second of the picture.

      • Arrrrgh! The front row? It must be really good if it stood out even from the front row! 😉

      • It was, even though it screwed the movie’s aspect ratio for me.

  3. Good review. It’s nothing special, but still well worth the watch.

    • Thanks man. I really did enjoy the movie, it isn’t innovative in any way but I appreciated the political connotations of Bridge of Spies.

  4. I love Spielberg and this movie looks so intriguing. Great write up.

    • Thanks man.

  5. Agree with you that its difficult to dislike but cant say I really loved it all that much. Great review.

    • Thanks. Bridge of Spies is certainly not a flawless movie but I really enjoyed it.

  6. You have me wanting to see Lincoln now! I for some reason thought it’d just be only interesting to Americans, which in retrospect was rather dumb, plus its got DDL who is just awesome in everything I have seen him in.

    As for this movie, I feel much the same way as you. I really liked the humour injected by the Coens, and the building of the Berlin wall in the background… its only problem was that the ending is rather predictable. I need to revisit it, not sure if its out on blu-ray yet

    • Watch Lincoln man! DDL is solid in that film and it’s a great historical piece.

      I actually visited Berlin for the first time last year, seeing the remnants of the wall and Checkpoint Charlie, so watching Bridge of Spies really made me reflect upon that experience. It made the movie more enjoyable to see.

      • Wow that really would have enhanced the movie for sure! I’d love to travel out of Australia some time, but going anywhere but New Zealand or Bali costs a ton.

        Yep I’m definitely gonna have to get myself a copy of Lincoln. Anything with DDL in it is worth watching, I don’t know why I didn’t immediately watch it for that reason alone. I think I thought it was some propaganda piece or something. I suspect I was going through one of those conspiracy phases at the time I think! 😉

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