“My father was beaten, my mother was beaten, and this man, my father’s friend, he was beaten. And I watched this man. Every time they hit him, he stood back up again.”
Before I started writing Bored and Dangerous, I was a little skeptical of Steven Spielberg. I thought he was all style, no substance, and too heavy handed when it came to sentiment and melodramatic overstatement. But in the last two and half years, I’ve written about no less than half a dozen Spielberg movies. And with pretty much each one, I have come to appreciate him more and more. Two years ago, Spielberg’s name wouldn’t have made me excited to see a movie. But a Cold War setting would. And Joel and Ethan Coen’s names on the wiring credits would. And Tom Hanks would. So add all of that together, along with my growing respect for Spielberg, and there’s no way I wasn’t going to see Bridge of Spies.
It’s the late 50s, and American paranoia about the threat of communism is at its peak. So when Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) is discovered living in the States, the trial is big news. Forced to defend Abel is lawyer James Donavan (Hanks). He’s the kind of guy who believes in the purity of the law and that every man deserves a fair trial and fair defense. Even when that man is clearly a spy. But the trial is pretty much just a formality, with the jury quick to find him guilty and a judge ready to give Abel the death penalty.
Meanwhile, the American defense force has built a new spy plane, the U-2. Flying at 70,000 feet, the U-2 means America can take photos behind enemy lines, without the enemy ever knowing they were even there. Except, when the U-2 is deployed, the enemy does no its there and they shoot it down. Now, pilot Francis Powers (Austin Stowell) is taken prisoner in East Berlin, with the Soviet government contacting Donavan to act as a broker to exchange Abel for Powers.
Bridge of Spies is prestige movie making at its most prestigious. A master technician like Spielberg at the helm, one of Hollywood’s greatest everymen in the lead role, and an amazing looking period setting that is just perfect for the big screen. It’s been released at the time of year where we start to get the big Oscar worthy heavy hitters. Yet, for all that, I don’t think it quite amounts to the sum of its parts. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked Bridge of Spies, I think I just got my hopes up a little and expected too much.
In a way, everything about the pedigree of Bridge of Spies and the reasons I wanted to see it, are the things that left me kind of underwhelmed. There are times when the snappy, machine gun Coen-esque dialogue sneaks through, but I guess no one can direct Coen brothers words like the Coen brothers.