Bridge of Spies: The Height of the Cold War

Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, and Billy Magnussen in Bridge of Spies. Courtesy of DreamWorks and Twentieth Century-Fox.

Bridge of Spies reteams director Steven Spielberg with two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks to bring us a thriller set during the height of the Cold War.

A Cold War setting usually screams thriller.  However, this film is a mix of thrills and drama in one epic.  And this is in spite of the CIA’s involvement in rescuing pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell).  Everything leads up to the exchange on Berlin’s historic Glienicke Bridge.  This is the same exact bridge from 1957.

An Brooklyn insurance lawyer, James Donovan (Tom Hanks), soon finds himself in the middle of the Cold War.  The former Nuremberg trial prosecutor is given no choice in the matter.  He is to represent Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance).  Again, it’s the Cold War and people are going to want Abel dead.  Donovan knows his getting involved at any level is going to mean nothing but trouble.  It’s shortly after these events when CIA operative Hoffman (Scott Shepherd) recruits Donovan to negotiate for the release of Powers from Russia.  Call it a gut feeling or whatever you’d like but Donovan convinces the judge to let Abel live.  It’s a smart decision because now this means the USA could use Abel as leverage.  Russia has someone we want while we have someone they want.

The film’s depiction of real events is mostly truthful.  Some of the events depicted regarding Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers) depart just a bit from real life.  Regardless, the American student was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Rogers getting arrested in East Berlin gives Donovan more work but he gets the job done.  It’s a departure from real life since he was in Denmark during construction.  He was detained following his return as a result of visiting a friend’s sister.

Not only do we get Spielberg and Hanks back together again in the film but the Coen Brothers also worked on the screenplay.  When you talk about a film’s pedigree, this is pretty damn impressive on its own.  It’s the fourth film collaboration between Hanks and Spielberg.  A fifth film would later be released in 2018.  Meanwhile, Spielberg is without frequent collaborator John Williams.  The longtime composer had to bow out due to a health issue.  Thomas Newman steps in to deliver an understated score that is simple but subtle in approach.

In terms of the production design, East Berlin doesn’t exist today as it did during the 1950s.  The production went to Wroclaw, Poland to capture the setting.  Because of the neglect, they were able to capture the look of a city that had been ravaged by war.

The Cold War is a major part of American history in the 20th century.  It’s not your traditional war in terms of combat.  No, this war was different. Regardless, Bridges of Spies presents a piece of history that people will know for generations to come.

DIRECTOR:  Steven Spielberg
SCREENWRITERS:  Matt Charman and Ethan & Joel Coen
CAST: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Scott Shepherd, Amy Ryan, Sebastian Koch, Alan Alda, Austin Stowell, Mikhail Gorevoy, Will Rogers

Touchstone Pictures opened Bridge of Spies in theaters on October 16, 2015. Grade: 5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.