Hollywood has a history of cashing in when political ties between countries intensify, and the new film Bridge of Spies is no different. Released on Oct. 16, box office revenues have reached 32 million and counting. The film follows the plight of lawyer James Donovan, played by Tom Hanks, as he struggles to defend an alleged Soviet Union spy, and then negotiate an exchange for captured U.S Airforce pilot Gary Powers. Based on a true story, the film succeeded in recreating the tension associated with the Cold War.
What proved truly surprising was the likeability of Colonel Abel, the Soviet spy played by Mark Rylance. The relationship that grew between Donovan and Abel—one of genuine respect and friendship—seems to represent the unlikely hope for America and the Soviet Union to reconcile their differences. Casting Hanks and Rylance worked well because their jovial attitude towards the serious nature of their situation served to make the story more palatable. In the same vein, this film probably would not have had the same presence and entertainment value if Stephen Spielberg had not directed.
Above all, Spielberg is a story teller. Though he has to compress some events to make them appear as if they occurred closer together, Spielberg pays close attention to detail and cuts scenes meticulously in order to speed up a story that easily could become slow. The most interesting scene of the movie proved to be the exchange of the two prisoners of war over the Glienicke Bridge in Berlin. Mirror images of two snipers from each side, armed at the ready should anything go wrong, heightened the sense of many possible unfortunate outcomes. Snow caked the bridge and all the people on it, showing both literally and figuratively the full spectrum of the situation.
Another interesting use of props and scenery involved the building of the Berlin Wall. Donovan watches in horror as teenagers attempt to climb over the wall into West Berlin and consequently fall in bloody heaps as soldiers gun them down. Later in the film, Donovan returns to his home in New York and sees kids innocently hopping metal fences in a pleasant suburban neighborhood. His frown says so much without a word, but if he had spoken, he might reflect on how people in Europe deserve to live freely.
Overall, this film covers major historical events in a new and intriguing way. That being said, one major problem with this film is it seems to hype up the current tensions between the U.S and Russian governments. Ever since Russia invaded U.S-allied Ukraine, the two governments have kept eyes on each other, planning their next moves. It appears the timing of the production and distribution of this film correlates with the escalating strains broadcast in the news.
With the exception of Abel, none of the Soviet or German characters show any sympathy or compassionate qualities that might make viewers like them. American viewers might call this film patriotic, but it also could be seen as anti-Russian or anti-German. Spielberg clearly choose to make the American side flawed, but superior—a choice that makes sense given the context but the bias is still apparent. While interrogating their prisoner, the Soviets use tactics such as sleep deprivation and water torture. The scene cuts to a C.I.A agent gently waking up Colonel Abel to talk to him. Spielberg paints a rather rosy picture of the U.S government’s treatment of prisoners, one that does not seem entirely believable.
Bridge of Spies offers audiences a thrilling historically-based tale that has already won two Hollywood Film Awards, one for Cinematographer of the Year and one for Sound of the Year. Patrons should keep in mind, however, that some of the political ideas portrayed should not be taken at face value.