3 December 2015

Bridge of Spies review

Based on a true story, Bridge of Spies follows American lawyer James Donovan during the Cold War as he defends KGB spy Rudolf Abel against charges of espionage before being asked to negotiate an exchange of prisoners between the USA and the USSR in the wake of a U-2 spy plane being shot down over Soviet territory and pilot Francis Gary Powers being captured.

Despite being based on an event that occurred over 50 years ago, Bridge of Spies seems very applicable to the modern day at times thanks to the way it takes a look at the dangers of wrong-headed nationalism. As Bridge of Spies shows us with multiple different characters, people both then and now are all to quick to dispose of human rights and civil liberties the second they feel threatened, ironically destroying the foundation of the thing that they think they are trying to protect. We see it when Abel is denied constitutional rights during his trial and we are seeing it now as various countries are giving their Governments greater powers while making them less accountable for their actions, and Bridge of Spies questions the logic of sacrificing principles for security through its main character, James Donovan.

A man of extraordinary integrity, James Donovan is the kind of person that we all wish we could be. He knows the difference between right and wrong and he's brave enough to act on that even in the face of adversary - while everyone else is giving lip service to the idea of giving Abel fair trail, Donovan is doing his best to guarantee one at the cost of his career, his reputation and even his family's safety. Naturally, Tom Hanks is a perfect fit for the role, making a character who could potentially seem a little too righteous both extremely likeable and very human.

The entire supporting cast of Bridge of Spies are really on-form throughout, but particular mention needs to be made of Mark Rylance and Scott Shepherd, who play Rudolf Abel and CIA Agent Hoffman respectively. Each of them make their mark on characters that might otherwise have ended up being overshadowed by Donovan, but in very different ways - whereas Abel acts as a mirror of sorts, showing us the same sense of honour and dignity that we see in Donovan, Hoffman represents a version of Donovan who is just as self-assured but without the same sense of principles. The fact that Hoffman doesn't come out of Bridge of Spies as "the villain" is impressive, and that's mostly down to how Scott Shepherd makes you empathise with Hoffman even as he takes actions that as a member of the audience you know to be questionable.

And this is all handled perfectly by a director who is widely recognised as one of the greatest directors working in cinema today. There is no chest-puffing in Bridge of Spies, just a captivating story being told with confidence by a brilliant director using great actors, a film that fully earns every moment it asks its audience to accept thanks to how quickly and easily it manages to get them invested in the characters and story. You feel what Bridge of Spies wants you to feel when it wants you to feel it, and the sense that you are in the capable hands of a master of his trade is tangible - it's no coincidence that a film consisting mostly of just people talking to each other is also one of the most gripping films of 2015.

In any other year Bridge of Spies would almost certainly be the best film released, but thanks to the overall incredible quality of cinema in 2015 it ends up being just one of the best films released. It's cinema in it's purest form, a film that leads you through a wide range of emotions while telling a supremely compelling (and as far as I can tell, fairly historically accurate) story that is both inspiring without being trite and relevant without being preachy - and makes it looks like the easiest thing in the world.

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