The Cold War Warms Up in “Bridge of Spies”

Caitlin Mayo
Contributing Writer

“Bridge of Spies” is the most ambitious historical movie that Spielberg has directed since “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan.” He’s dabbled with the spy thriller in a masterful manner, with great attention to detail and authenticity, amazing cinematography, and a message that will make viewers think about our place in the world today.

Spielberg travels back in time to the high tension, high stakes Cold War era. Insurance lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks) is tasked of acting as the defense of accused Soviet Spy, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance). Donovan goes above and beyond in providing this defense, becoming one of the most hated men in America at the time. He convinces the Supreme Court to keep Abel alive— to use him as a piece to exchange for American U-2 pilot, Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell). Even more ambitiously, Donovan also seeks to free American student, Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers), trapped on the wrong side of Berlin.

The attention to detail in “Bridge of Spies” is extraordinarily meticulous, from the setting, to the costumes, to the smallest, personal details, such as Donovan’s cold upon landing in Berlin. A stark contrast between 1950s America and 1950s East Germany is built with a particular interest in color. As Steven Spielberg stated in an interview with the Foghorn, “When we make a movie, we find the palate, the color palate that will enhance our points of view. For Bridge of Spies, we decided to go for a color palate that was free and unimpressive and very American for the first hour of the film. And then when the film evolves into a story that takes place behind the Iron Curtain, most notably in East Berlin, we went for greys and blues and greens.”

The set itself was as true to 1950s America and 1950s East Germany as can be. Painstaking research was conducted by production designer Adam Stockhousen. Spielberg stated “[Adam] made a presentation to me when I first hired him to do a picture of some tremendous photographs from not just Life Magazine, but from a lot of German outlets as well, including a lot of pictures from the National Geographic and landscape photography by very well-known photographers of that period.” Smaller details, such as shots of Donovan and his wife stepping on flashbulbs (characteristic of photography at the time) from the flood of press outside the courtroom, reminds us of the era we’re in.

Tom Hanks really took control as James Donovan with his witty and fast-paced delivery, and the conviction and heroism he emits in the courtroom. Hanks plays Donovan authentically and transparently with a sense of duty that can really appeal to anyone. However, Mark Rylance’s performance as the elusive and ambiguous Rudolf Abel steals the show. Rylance is excellent support to Hanks’ Donovan, and the chemistry between the two actors is evident in every scene the two are together. Although Abel is a spy, he has a harmless air about him that makes him difficult to dislike. The client-attorney friendship was well-written, and I missed scenes of the two when they were separated during Donovan’s negotiations in East Germany.

Spielberg believes that “Bridge of Spies” is a film that is relevant today, especially when we look at our current interactions with Russia and attempt to understand the motivations and reasoning of men like Vladimir Putin, who grew up during the Cold War era. “I feel just speaking personally that, somebody that has the talent to negotiate and not intimidate, to cajole not threaten, to basically compromise is something that this world needs a lot more of that we’re just not getting.”

5 out of 5 stars.

Photo courtesy of Dreamworks Pictures


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