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Review: Bridge of Spies

Roslyn Hull

During the Cold War, an American lawyer is recruited to defend an arrested Soviet spy in court, and then help the CIA facilitate an exchange of the spy for the Soviet captured American U2 spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers. IMDb

A solidly entertaining cold war drama, this film has an old-fashioned feel.

I was not surprised to discover Gregory Peck had attempted to make the same events into a film that would have starred him in Tom Hanks role and Alec Guinness in Mark Rylance’s part.

However, I do not mean that is a bad thing – it looks and feels like a major Hollywood production from the last ‘golden era’. Streets are populated with lots of vehicles and humans (actual humans in most cases, not just CGI), walls are papered with peeling posters, homes and offices are decorated with, what seemed to me, accurate ephemera.

Still, the online obsessives have had a field day picking which Buick in the background is in the wrong paint colour for that year – and even if the Corningware used on the dinner table is completely accurate. Really?

That actually says to me that the crew got it so right that a few small mistakes stood out. Mind you, they are also debating every tiny aspect of the historic accuracy of the story.

Again, I am having a tiny attack of the ‘so-whats’. It is a good story told well.

I think we have all seen enough Steven Spielberg films to know that historical accuracy is less important than the impact of the story. And yes, by the time the Berlin Wall was constructed the State had such strong control over the people so there would not be the flurry of couples leaping through gaps as the wall went up – but it does add intensity to a dramatic scene.

I don’t have a problem with this (up to a point), especially if it allows the audience to get a stronger sense of the essence of the story.

We can go to Wikipedia for the facts. We go to a film to identify with the characters and to experience another place and time. This film does that very well.

It is about spying on by both the US and the USSR – and the side-by-side development of the two (and a bit) sides of the story is a very clever element. However, more than that it is about the small human stories at the heart of the conflict.

Each and every character feels rounded and important – no matter if their role is as small as the lawyer’s daughter (actually Bono’s daughter Eve Hewson) – or as large as Tom Hanks’ portrayal of Jim Donovan.

Mark Rylance (superb as Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall) is excellent as the deep cover Soviet spy. He comes across as a decent man and a good soldier, just as Donovan describes him.

It is these tones of light and shade that make this such an enjoyable story – there is little stereotypical grandstanding and much more subtle humour than in any other Cold War drama I’ve seen.

I see the work of the Coen brothers in that – they wrote this as an original screenplay for Spielberg but it is based on actual events and, according to Hanks, some of the actual words on record were used in the script. Their script is sharp, the plot never drags and Spielberg does a very good job of directing.

In fact, the strongest moment of the film, for me, has no words: Donovan and his wife walk over the spent flashbulbs of the crush of photographers outside a court room and it says everything you need to know about how the Cold War was conducted.

Stay for the notes at the end of the film – what happened next is almost as interesting as what happens on screen.


Ros Hull

Roslyn is a writer and storyteller who loves all things Canberra, her family, sci fi and movies – but not in that order. She has worked in museum education since 2001 and has a passion for imparting knowledge to others. Writing is her happy place, particularly if there is a dog at her feet and a coffee in her hand. More about the Author

  • Heather

    Spielberg doesn’t using historical accuracy? But surely Raiders of the Lost Ark was a documentary? I am sure this one will be a lot more authentic, and entertaining, than Man From UNCLE.

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