Four-and-a-half out of Five kernels
Two cinematic national treasures — Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks — team up to make “Bridge of Spies” a moving and exciting film.
Hanks has donned many roles in his versatile film career, but watching him play Jim Donovan is something special. He has determination, integrity, smarts and a little bit of sass. Half his lines will make you think, the other half will make you laugh and all will make you feel.
Spielberg has tackled great moments in American history before, both in “Lincoln” and “Saving Private Ryan,” but this is a moment that America didn’t even know was happening. While the capture and trial of Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) was well known, the prisoner exchange of Abel and Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) took place behind closed doors, in another country.
Spielberg takes these moments — a capture, a trial and an exchange — and makes them seem just as thrilling as the Battle of Normandy in “Saving Private Ryan.” He skips over the boring parts and focuses on the most interesting and the most gripping, which is partly because he was given a fantastic script by Matt Charman, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen (yes, those Coen brothers, of “Fargo” and “No Country for Old Men” fame).
Not only does the story take you on a spellbinding trip from New York to Berlin and even East Berlin, but it does so with a bit of humor. The audience was laughing just as much as they were on the edge of their seats.
“Bridge of Spies” also excels in the visuals: not only how the camera moves, but also how it shows off the era. Cars, clothes, hairstyles and all kinds of other props from the 1950s make you feel like you’ve traveled back through time. The set takes it a step further, showing the cold and desperate lives of both sides of Berlin at the time — ruins, building the Berlin wall and the fences and guard towers of no man’s land.
What really makes “Bridge of Spies” stand out is how it handles the juxtaposition of fear and hope. The fear of the Cold War, of the Russians, what they know and what they could do and the hope of the Americans that they can get their guy back, get him safe, get themselves safe and keep the country safe.
And the man standing between these two powers is a regular guy from New York. In a way that reflects Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and Henry Fonda in “12 Angry Men,” Hanks is unwavering in his resolve to show the world and the audience what it means to be an American. Without shying away from the fear of the times, it’s a film that makes you feel more proud and more inspired to be an American.