Bridge of Spies (2015): Steven Spielberg's le Carré-esque espionage thriller inspired by true events

A Spielberg film sans the typical Spielbergian elements

By Murtaza Ali Khan

Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews

Bridge of Spies, Movie Poster, Tom Hanks, Directed by Steven Spielberg, also starring Mark Rylance
Bridge of Spies (2015) - By Steven Spielberg
Our Rating: 8.5
IMDb Ratings: 8.5
Genre: Biography | Drama | History
CastTom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda
Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 141 min
Color: Color

Summary: An American lawyer is recruited by the CIA during the Cold War to help rescue a pilot detained in the Soviet Union.

Bridge of Spies is the latest offering from the celebrated American filmmaker Steven Speilberg. Written for the screen by Matt Charman, in collaboration with the Coen brothers, Bridge of Spies presents the story (inspired by true events) of one James B. Donovan—an American lawyer who is commissioned by the CIA to rescue a US spy pilot, Francis Gary Powers, detained in the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Donovan must travel behind the iron curtain to East Germany and negotiate the terms of Powers’ release with both the KGB and the Stasi. Bridge of Spies stars Tom Hanks (as Donovan), Mark Rylance, and Amy Ryan in the major roles.

James B. Donovan gets questioned by the Stasi officers in East Berlin, in Bridge of Spies, Directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Tom Hanks
James B. Donovan gets questioned by the Stasi officers in East Berlin
Made in the vein of old-fashioned espionage thrillers made famous by the renowned British author John le Carré, Bridge of Spies is a kind of film that one generally doesn’t associate with Steven Spielberg who is ubiquitously renowned for his dazzling style of filmmaking that relies heavily on the use of CGI and VFX. But he has this knack of coming up with films which are devoid of the typical Spielbergian elements. Sometimes the surprise is pleasant and sometimes not so. Bridge of Spies is unlike anything Spielberg has done in the recent years. In today’s age when we are so used to watching spy films that are replete with nonsensical action, forced gimmicks, fake gadgets, and flashy special effects, a piece of story-driven cinema like Bridge of Spies comes as a welcome surprise. Also, to their credit, Spielberg and team don't concoct a regular le Carré. Undeniably, the product on offer is more in accordance with the American sense of valor and optimism than the British author's characteristic cynicism and futility.

Mark Rylance in Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies, Directed by Steven Spielberg
Mark Rylance in Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies
While Spielberg may still be waiting for the elusive opportunity to direct his first James Bond movie, here he demonstrates how capable he is of cooking up a le Carré-esque espionage thriller that revolves around office intrigue and old-school counter intelligence but lacks the charm, romanticism and heroics that underline Ian Fleming's spy fiction. Bridge of Spies is largely plot driven with reasonable scope for character development. Here Spielberg doesn't go for those big dramatic moments that his films are known for but he handles the smaller ones with aplomb. There isn’t an iota of sex and the little action that is on display only adds to the movie’s realism. The East Germany scenes are beautifully crafted and succeed in capturing the unsettling tension and paranoia prevalent at the height of the Cold War. It can be attributed, among other things, to Janusz Kamiński's mesmerizing cinematography and Michael Kahn's topnotch editing.

Bridge of Spies, starring Tom Hanks, Directed by Steven Spielberg, East Berlin, Night Scene, checkpoint
A Still from Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies
Overall, Bridge of Spies is a meticulously made spy thriller that takes us back in time to one of the darkest phases in modern history. The movie unites the actor-director duo of Hanks and Spielberg after a gap of 10 years. And it’s so heartening to once again see the both of them at the top of their games. Bridge of Spies may not be their best work till date but it's nonetheless quite solid. While Spielberg puts up a strong show on the filmmaking front, Hanks’ convincing performance adds a lot of value to the film. As a matter of fact, just to watch Hanks go about his usual business in front of a motion-picture camera is a treat in itself. Hanks’ character is not an intelligence officer like George Smiley but is a lawyer who specializes in insurance and understands well that often the art of salesmanship is all about bluffing. Hanks is well supported by the rest of the cast which is led by the noted thespian Mark Rylance who is superb in the role of a KGB spy. Although, there is never a dull moment in the movie, it demands patience from its viewers. Bridge of Spies is a must watch for viewers who enjoy watching old-fashioned spy thrillers, but those who lack patience are advised to approach it with caution.

Readers, please feel free to share your views/opinions in the comment box below. As always your insightful comments are highly appreciated!

Note: A version of this review was re-published in the Huffington Post.


Bridge of Spies (2015) Trailer (YouTube)

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  1. Agree almost on everything except the title of "le Carresque". Let me explain. Typically le Carre books and films are about severe moral ambiguity and wheels within wheels plots. Here the plot is rather straightforward . In fact me thinks the alternative title should have been 'Donovan's Deals" . Spying s relegated to background and its all about DOnovan

  2. Well, I see where you are coming from. While I agree that le Carre's works are far more complex, I also feel that the outer texture of Bridge of Spies is more or less in sync with le Carre's motifs. The influence of the British author's works on Bridge of Spies just cannot be overlooked. You see there are two major schools of thought when it comes to spy fiction: Fleming's and le Carre's. Here, I don't really see much similarity to Fleming's style of spy fiction. Now, Bridge of Spies does deal with office intrigue and old-fashioned counter espionage and in my opinion its obvious comparison is with le Carre, whether you agree or not!


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