Just been watching…(72)

Bridge Of Spies (2015)

***These are historical events, so spoilers do not apply***

Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know that I consider Tom Hanks to be overrated as an actor. With some notable exceptions, I also consider film-maker Stephen Spielberg to be over-sentimental to the point of mawkishness most of the time too. So, here’s a film starring the first, and made by the second, and what am I doing watching it? The answer is easy, Mark Rylance. The talented British actor co-stars, and I enjoy watching (almost) anything he appears in. I just had to give it a go.

The film is based on the true-life events of spy exchanges during the Cold War, and the 1960 case of US Pilot Gary Powers, who was famously shot down whilst flying a U-2 spy plane to take photos over Russia. Not long before that happened, a Soviet spy was caught in New York, and put on trial for espionage. Their lives converge when an exchange is suggested, and the film follows those events closely.

I am never one to deny talent and skill deliberately, and on this occasion, Hanks steps up admirably. He cements his reputation as the ‘new James Stewart’, with a solid performance as the lawyer appointed to defend the Russian spy, Abel. (Mark Rylance). He plays the real-life insurance litigator, James Donovan, who finds himself nominated by the bar council to defend Abel. He is not expected to win, and the defence is simply a sop to the reputation of the authorities, as an indication that Abel got a fair trial before being convicted. But they didn’t count on Donovan’s inherent integrity, or the fact that he grows to respect Abel for his dedication and determination.

Meanwhile, we see the U-2 pilots in training, sworn to secrecy by their new employers, the CIA. The flimsy aircraft are little more than flying cameras, and the men piloting them are expected to commit suicide if caught. Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) is an accomplished pilot, and one of those chosen to fly a mission deep into Russian territory.

Anderson is barely allowed to defend his client. Evidence is gathered without warrant, and civil liberties ignored. The CIA harasses him, and the trial judge makes it clear that only a guilty verdict is acceptable. Due process of law is overturned, much to the annoyance of the dedicated lawyer, who becomes hated by the general public for his staunch attitude, and suspected by his colleagues for the same reason. When the guilty verdict is delivered, Anderson appeals to the judge to withhold the death penalty, and is satisfied when Abel is imprisoned instead.

When Powers is paraded on television after his capture by the Russians, the head of the CIA enlists the help of Donovan to arrange an exchange for Abel, something he has to undertake without official sanction, and little help from anyone. He travels to East Berlin at the height of the Berlin Wall crisis, and begins the difficult negotiations.

OK, it’s a spy story, and based totally on real events, and real people. But it really is an excellent film, nonetheless. Spielberg managed to ladle off the schmaltz, and Hanks gave a completely convincing performance. Then Rylance simply shone as Abel. He received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role, and earned every inch of it. The period is flawlessly recreated; from the clothes to the street signs, the cars, aircraft, and even TV shows seen in rooms. The Cold War fears and paranoia are brilliantly handled too. It’s a very long film, at 2 hours and 42 minutes, but I was never once distracted, or lost interest.
Highly recommended.

49 thoughts on “Just been watching…(72)

  1. I am happy that you enjoyed this Pete, as a longtime fan of Spielberg and Hanks I was not so easily moved. While I admired the craft on display and the integrity of Hanks’ character and cannot fault Rylance’s performance I was not so caught up in it. I did like the scenes between Rylance and Hanks and the idea of the standing man. At pivotal moments Hanks is seen crouching, sitting, standing and at mission’s end collapsed on his bed. A very Spielbergian touch that I enjoyed but I believe you may have enjoyed the film more. I also do not like the CGI and colourisation touches to evoke period setting. A much better period evocation was carried out by Spielberg with his film Munich but there you have two cents worth and it is from me. πŸ™‚ Best wishes Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Lloyd. I am sure that I enjoyed this film more because I really didn’t expect to like it at all. But without Rylance, I doubt I would ever have watched it. πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

          1. Rylance is an actor and a better one but I honestly believe that Sly acted in Creed and well. As for the original Rocky, there is something special there. Something Stallone took from himself yes but I think he is underrated as an actor and a storyteller. Including by himself so what can you do? Just my two cents. πŸ™‚

            Liked by 1 person

  2. I remember the events from television news reports. Not just remember, I read everything I could about the series of events when they were contemporary and still very recent history. Somehow this film escaped my notice these years later. I will find an watch it. Thank you.
    Warmest regards, Theo

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hmm, interesting. I did want to see this when it came out but never got round to it. I forgot about your opinion of Tom Hanks. I see what you mean but nonetheless, I enjoy him in almost every movie he’s in!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many modern actors play the same part- themselves – whatever the film. It comes down to whether or not you enjoy watching that. I have many examples where I do, and also many where I don’t. That list includes Hanks, DiCaprio, Tom Cruise, and many more.
      But Hanks is the right choice for this film, it has to be said. If it had been made in the 1950s, James Stewart would have definitely been the choice for the role. Move on to the 1990s, and Kevin Costner might have been a candidate. (Think ‘JFK’)
      And in my opinion, the film is worth watching just for Mark Rylance, and his understated brilliance.
      Best wishes, Pete.


  4. Great post πŸ™‚ Beginning with 2012’s Lincoln, Spielberg has seemed to resist his flair for “mawkishness” as you put it and Bridge of Spies is no exception. Maybe this is why past Speilberg skeptics have been kinder to him in recent years for the most part (If not all the time). I was always a bigger fan of Spielberg’s popcorn entertainments than his more serious work, but then again you probably knew that. I think that may be because his flair for sentiment works there whereas in some of his more serious films it feels a bit out of place. As with you though, I too like Mark Rylance’s work and I always look forward to seeing what he is going to do next. Anyway, keep up the great work as always πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  5. We’ve recorded it so look forward to seeing it. Now in your review I am confused, as you say Tom Hanks plays Jim Donovan and then later you talk about Anderson defending his client. Is that 2 different lawyers or you just changed the name? πŸ€”

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I didn’t watch the whole thing, because the Hanksy bit got to me…but as you say “the period is flawlessly recreated; from the clothes to the street signs, the cars, aircraft, and even TV shows seen in rooms. The Cold War fears and paranoia are brilliantly handled too.” So I enjoyed the bit that I did see

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was getting ‘Hanksed-out’ by the end, but Rylance was on top form. πŸ™‚
      The epilogue right at the end was very nice too. They told us what happened later in life, to everyone involved.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Have bought this one quite a few months ago on dvd, but still haven’t gotten around to it. But….I have a vacation coming up in September and I definitely plan on catching up with some films that have been gathering dust for ages, this one being one of them! Sounds like a terrific film indeed. Glad you enjoyed it , and as always great post! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Generally, I can’t stand him in films, and agree that he usually just plays Tom Hanks, and leaves it at that. Even in this film, he is very ‘Hanksy’, but it works for this particular story.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

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