What’s Spielberg without war? He continues pushing out film after film involving some war story and somehow we can never get tired of it. We never feel like he’s beating a dead horse. It’s because the man encapsulates the classic ideals of cinema, and one of the last of his kind to do so.
Spielberg’s way of directing is the kind that invites you to come aboard, but never forces you to. He doesn’t beg for your attention–you just can’t help but give it to him–sometimes without even realizing.
Bridge of Spies is a story about espionage, human rights, societal opinion, understanding your enemy, and American pride all wrapped up into one. It’s at its very best when themes conflict and contradict with one another–which happens all throughout.
Taking place in New York in the 1950s during the Cold War, it stars Tom Hanks as James B. Donovan, an insurance lawyer chosen to represent captured Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance). Obviously, Donovan becomes one of America’s most hated men, meanwhile developing a friendship with Abel and truly understanding his life and choices. Then tables are turned as now the Soviets have captured one of our own spies and Donovan must use Abel as leverage to trade back what is ours.
Bridge of Spies constantly reminds us that at our worst we are still better than the Soviet Union. It acts as a good reminder of our humanity, even during the times that are most bereft of it. Perhaps it even satirizes our willingness to change our minds. While our viewpoints may be skewed at times by the media or even the government, it reminds us that we never quite know the whole story–although we’re wholly convinced that we do at times.
The first third takes place in America–presumably on purpose. It’s a little darker than many other period pieces may depict it as–say even this year’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E.–obviously a very specific perspective of the era. Then the last chunk of the film features the most depraved East Berlin. But the thing is, here we don’t see it as any exaggeration. It’s exactly how we’ve always envisioned it during that time. That’s how it was–glum and depressing–another reminder.
Spielberg uses juxtaposition to its finest potential, transitioning between scenes of Americans and Soviets–an American spy going to sleep in his cell after being tortured by Soviet soldiers cuts to Abel, the most hated man in America, being woken up respectfully by American prison guards.
I will say, however, that there is something missing with the absence of a John Williams score in the film, but Thomas Newman’s style fits nicely with the project adding the right amounts of emotion.
The film adequately captures the misinformed fears of the early Cold War and uses them to get its points across. It’s last reminder, and perhaps its strongest, is that you never know the whole story. When you stop thinking independently you begin allowing others to control you–much like the Soviets tried doing. It’s crazy. Our fear was inadvertently becoming what it so desperately tried to avoid.
How can you not love Spielberg? He brings magic back into the movies when we feel, at times, it may be gone forever. Bridge of Spies is superb–one of the year’s best. This is why I go to the movies.