There’s a sense of calm – and nostalgia – about Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies.”
It hearkens back to a time when enemies were outside the borders of the United States, not inside trying to take it down.
Based on a real incident, the sure-footed drama follows an insurance lawyer (Tom Hanks) as he represents a Soviet spy, then negotiates his exchange for two Americans. Viewing the situation with 2015 cynicism, it’s easy to say he was plucked to demonstrate the government would make good on its fair trial claims.
Hanks’ James B. Donovan, though, is determined to do his best. He uses his background to good effect, gets the guy (nicely played by Mark Rylance) something other than a death sentence and is pulled back in to negotiate the swap.
Spielberg handles the first part fairly efficiently. Hanks and Rylance are in and out of the courtroom quickly and, then, the good stuff begins.
Realizing Donovan is a tough negotiator (particularly since he broaches the idea of a swap),the CIA engages him to broker a deal to get a pilot, Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell), out of the Soviet Union.
Along the way, he learns there’s another American, a student (Will Rogers), in East Germany. Assuming he can get a two-for-one deal, he makes the pitch and surprises those who sent him.
Because Hanks is so good at these kinds of things, nothing seems too remote. Sure, he sweats now and then (and loses a coat), but he’s a smooth operator who never betrays audience loyalty.
Spielberg is good at telling each of the inner stories but doesn’t offer much elaboration. As a result, it’s easy to confuse Stowell and Rogers at certain times (they do look similar).
Still, “Bridge of Spies” relies a lot on that big exchange and how it’s going to go down. Will Donovan get both men for one? What is his obligation to the Russian spy?
Steeped in authenticity (note even little things on the 1950s walls), the film is just as much a history lesson as Spielberg’s “Lincoln.” Donovan’s feat isn’t as miraculous as the one in “Schindler’s List,” but it is worthy of attention.
The film is good, too. It’s just not iconic – and that’s what people think the director should produce each time out.
This bears watching because it shows us a time when civility was a given. It also offers two actors – Hanks and Rylance – doing much with understated moves. They’re not flashy but they are memorable, particularly when international relations are put aside and they’re just two men hoping to get home to their families.