Bridge of Spies is almost a film of two halves– the first being ‘Mr Hanks Goes to Washington’ as Tom Hanks defends Mark Rylance’s Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel, in what is mainly a show trial. The second half is a Tom Hanks spy film, playing a family man and insurance lawyer sent to East Berlin to negotiate the prisoner swap of Abel for a shot-down American pilot. If our Cold War film (Tinker, Tailor…) was more about paperwork that spying, then Bridge of Spies is more about Tom Hanks negotiating for the best part of two hours.
The two halves are also differentiated by the cinematography; we leave cosy 1950s New York, Donovan’s (Hanks) middle-class family home and up market law office, and we arrive in Cold War Berlin. We rarely see post war Berlin like this in films, yes the grey colour palate and layer of dirty snow is familiar, but in scenes where the Berlin Wall is being built or when Donovan witnesses people shot dead as they try to get over the wall – in these scenes we can see the man who made Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan.
Mark Rylance is superb as the Russian spy, so good that he had me wondering whether or not he was actually guilty… until I remembered that we see him at the start of the film, receiving coded messages from inside of a fake, hollow coin. If Tom Hanks’s character didn’t go far to convince the audience to root for “his guy”; we would be on his side anyway, especially in the face of such stubbornness that has Abel more-or-less already convicted before a trial.
Hanks’ Donovan on the other hand, is pure Tom Hanks – he’s an everyman, the voice of common sense, justice and the American way. The reason that Hanks has never played a villain is because he’s so likeable, the audience wouldn’t accept it, and we totally believe he could take on both the Russians and Germans in negotiations, in East Berlin.
Tom Hanks negotiating for the best part of two hours might not sound that thrilling, but Bridge of Spies is a grown-up Cold War drama, with added Tom Hanks-ness.
words CHRIS WILLIAMS