Bridge of Spies is based on the true events taking place during the Cold War whereby an insurance attorney is persuaded to defend a captured Russian spy on trial for his life in a no win case. After exceeding expectations and the timely capture of an American Spy by the Russian’s, James Donovan (Tom Hanks) must then go one step further and arrange for an exchange of prisoners in a politically sensitive Germany where the Berlin Wall is just being erected.
From the outset you can see this was going to be a film with little action and thus my expectation of drama and tension increased, unfortunately the film failed to rise with these expectations. At the core I think Steven Spielberg made this film too safe. It’s the sort of film that will satisfy masses without doing much. Aesthetically he does a great job. Destroyed Germany in the winter time looks about as appealing as a kick in the balls. The scenery is rugged and with a constant military presence the atmosphere is constantly wary one. What was lacking was any sort of emotional depth from our main characters and there was a complete void of tension. There was absolutely no peril. Luckily for the film the content is interesting enough to keep the attention of the viewer waning even though it was over 2 hours long.
Tom Hanks plays your typical Tom Hanks character to good affect as the lead and is instantly recognisable. You can’t help feeling that showing the impact of what Hanks see’s whilst in a shattered Berlin would have added an extra drive and dimension to his motives.
By far the most interesting character was Russian spy Rudolf Abel, played by Mark Rylance. There is an air of mystery to his character that is contant and yet there is something that is quite calming about how he never panics/worries about anything. When needed he imparts wisdom on Donovan and you can visibally see the mutual trust grow between the 2 characters. It is therefore a shame that he was only really in the first act of the film as he could have really added to some later scenes.
On the same note there are a plethora of introduced characters that you think will have more of a role in the plot but are then are never seen again. These characters were uninteresting and not ancillary to the story in any way.
The film has 3 clear acts, a courtroom arc, the negotiation and then the exchange, and none of these sections of the film stand out from one another. The courtroom scenes were dry and not very engaging, there are plenty of good examples out there that Spielberg could have taken inspiration from. The negotiation phase is interesting enough but focusses much more on devastated Berlin rather than building any sort of drama or tension through the delicate political landscape. Last is the exchange and at no point was there any tension created or any feeling that something would go wrong or that anyone was in any real danger. As a viewer you are told how important it is but you don’t at any point feel it.
There was a real opportunity to put across a good argument for the legitimacy of due process against what is perceived to be ‘morally’ right by the population. There have constantly been blurred lines between the subjectivity of what someone deserves vs the interpretation of constitutional law during those Cold War years and while we see some of the effect of it, civil liberties are something that goes to the heart of American culture. It is an important issue that is forgotten about after the first 30 minutes.
There is always an argument for how faithful a film should stay to the events that happened, but as this is not a documentary and a disclaimer was made that it was ‘based’ on true events there is no real reason that creative licence couldn’t be taken further to make the content more interesting and input some ‘edge of your seat’ moments.
It’s a solid Cold War drama with a recognisable face in Hanks on the face of it and a recognisable feel in Spielberg behind the camera. Even though solidly executed and looks good, a weak script with little tension stops this from being the compelling drama it could have been.