Bridge of Spies

Steven Spielberg finds a genre he hasn’t tried before with the Cold War, espionage spy-swap thriller Bridge of Spies ****.

His take on it is very different to, say, John le Carre or Len Deighton, and he creates a very Spielbergian version that blends elements of the historical courtroom (Amistad, Lincoln), the fighter jet (1941), Germany at way (Munich, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan) and Tom Hanks at his most everyman (The Terminal).

You find yourself just sitting back and admiring the craft, the smooth economy of shot-making, the mahogany of Spielberg’s fluid style. The opening sequence is captivating, with Mark Rylance tracked by FBI men in hats.

Then there’s Hanks, playing insurance lawyer James Donovan, a family man set up to defend a spy but who is torn between being a Dad and performing his patriotic and professional duty.

Matt Charman’s script – polished and embellished by some quick Coen brothers smarts – tos and fros. Just when you think it is climaxing in a New York courtroom in 1957, we’re whisked off to an air force in Pakistan and fighter pilots, then to the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961, a marvellous segment that’ s so other-worldly that it even recalls Close Encounters. Then there’s the perfectly-staged, superbly paced finale on the titular Glienicke Bridge.

The Cold War, as it sounds, was an unsentimental business yet Spielberg finds the sentiment in it, the human touch, the moral purpose. And he judges it beautifully.

I’d have liked more of Mark Rylance and less of the mid-section’s comings and goings, but then with Rylance you just know less is more. The writer Matt Charman told me this week, Rylance would just give him script notes to cut more of his lines, give him fewer words. I feel a Best Supporting Oscar nomination coming on.

Bridge of Spies is handsome, solid, old-fashioned, thoroughly enjoyable and wears its gravitas lightly, like a jaunty hat. It moves with grace, poise and precision, gliding through its story with moments of wonder, always alert to detail. It isn’t a masterwork, but it is clearly the work of a master and attention must be paid.

Hear my interview with Bridge of Spies screenwriter Matt Charman here

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