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Bridge Of Spies – Review


Release Date: 16 October 2015 [USA]
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Matt Charman - Ethan Coen - Joel Coen
Cast: Tom Hanks - Mark Rylance - Alan Alda - Domenick Lombardozzi - Victor Verhaeghe -



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Posted November 27, 2015 by

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Bridge of Spies Review:

When I was growing up, Steven Spielberg was king of the blockbusters – Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark – does this guy ever miss? OK, I left out 1941 – I like 1941, especially the dance hall sequence, but it is sledgehammer stuff. Then after the second Indiana Jones film, Temple of Doom – should have been called ‘Temple of Getting Your Heart Ripped Out’ – Spielberg went all serious on us, filming Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, featuring Whoopi Goldberg and a pre-talk show Oprah Winfrey. I say, ‘went serious’, but as those who have seen the shaving scene will point out, Spielberg still fell back on conventional suspense – is that Mister gonna get his neck cut like he deserves? It wasn’t until 1993’s Schindler’s List, filmed back to back with Jurassic Park (what a year that was) that Spielberg finally got his Best Director Oscar. Still, even in this acclaimed drama about a German businessman who rescued Jews from concentration camps, there were still the characteristic Spielberg suspense set pieces which took the place of complex human relationships.

But why carp when Spielberg does suspense so well? Over 20 years from winning his Oscar – he got another for Saving Private Ryan, or more accurately the gut-wrenching first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan – he is back mixing drama and suspense in Bridge of Spies. This is inspired by the true story of insurance lawyer, James Donovan (Tom Hanks), who was hired to represent the ‘indefensible’ Russian spy, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) because ‘every man is entitled to a defence’ and he finds himself working on behalf of the US government to recover an American pilot detained by the Russians.

Now you’re best off not knowing the machinations that take Donovan behind the Iron Curtain. The story has an incredible speeding logic and even though it takes place over three years, it doesn’t seem like it. Hanks does what he excels at, being a decent guy who believes in what America has to offer and how its legal system distinguishes its people from savages – because savages wouldn’t present you with a large bill after you unsuccessfully sued for a newspaper for defamation.

Quite apart from plot twists and old fashioned espionage – secrets passed under a park bench – Bridge of Spies is notable for giving British actor Mark Rylance his first meaty screen role. I say ‘meaty’ but Rylance underplays. His is the first Scottish Russian since Sean Connery in The Hunt for Red October but a more benevolent chap, the sort who is asked why he isn’t more upset and replies, ‘would it help?’

Donovan has to leave his family behind and tells them he’s off to London before he becomes a fish out of water in Berlin. There, the drama takes a further twist as Donovan decides to ride his luck for the sake of a target not in America’s strategic interest.

Spielberg has assumed the mantle of a sentimental patriot – thank goodness no one gets shot trying to cross the border in America, he tells us. But the film scripted by British Matt Charman and re-worked by Joel and Ethan Coen – a surprise choice of collaborator, but maybe Spielberg might produce one of their movies to return the favour –has something to say about patriotism; it only has meaning when you remember that every life matters.

Bridge of Spies is typically Spielbergian in that it is about re-uniting a child with their parents (or vice versa) – he doesn’t do romantic comedy, as anyone who has seen his 1989 film, Always, will tell you. Although his films have traded on violence and horror for their frisson, Spielberg’s heroes are in the main non-violent, Indiana Jones notwithstanding. They either have skills other than cracking a bull whip or resort to violence reluctantly, as in the case of Tom Cruise’s character in War of the Worlds. Spielberg’s heroes use cunning or wilful naiveté as a weapon, but they are always unstoppable forces, buoyed by their righteousness. Incidentally, the Indiana Jones films became less violent and more of a lark as Spielberg doesn’t believe in the violent action hero; it’s hard to see him making a James Bond film, unless Tom Hanks played the part.

The 138 minute running time flies by and Spielberg delivers a feel-good finish. He won’t win Oscars for this one but he will satisfy movie audiences.


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Larry Oliver
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