Review: Every story matters in ‘Bridge of Spies’

It’s that time of year when blockbuster superhero sequels take a rest and real, thought-provoking films aimed at adults come out to play. It’s Oscar season and Steven Spielberg’s new Cold War espionage thriller, “Bridge of Spies,” should be a contender.

The film that stars the likable Tom Hanks hit theaters this past weekend and, with a script co-written by the Coen brothers, is one not to be missed.

“Bridge of Spies” is based on the true story of the 1960 U-2 incident that occurred during the Cold War. The film is written in two parts. The first part centers around an American insurance attorney named James Donovan (Hanks; Forrest Gump, Castaway), a family man who’s given the hard task to defend convicted Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance; The Other Boleyn Girl). This defense leads to a prisoner of war exchange between Abel and Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell; Dolphin Tale), an American who was shot down over Russia while performing aerial reconnaissance.

The second half of the film is centered on the political game between the United States, U.S.S.R. and East Germany that Donovan finds himself entangled in which adds to another negotiation trade with an American Ph.D student who was caught on the wrong side of the wall. This exchange in East Berlin offers much of the drama that resides in the film.

Much of the film’s success falls under the screenplay co-written by Matt Charman and Ethan and Joel Coen. The script rarely drags and is consistent throughout its running time. There are also hints of the Coen brothers’ comedic flair that rises every so often, like Abel having fake family members in East Berlin. Little things scream the Coen brothers.

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Hanks delivers yet again as the everyday family man trying to do the right thing. He’s believable, sliding into his character and making the audience feel a connection with Donovan. Like Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” Hanks conveys humanity at its best. We understand where he’s coming from and why he does the things he does. This is the type of character Hanks knows well.

The realism of the film lies in the atmosphere that Spielberg and longtime partner and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski work hard at conveying.

Everything is kept within the time period and with blues and grays, the Cold War almost suffocates you. Effective shadowing recalls hints of noir and adds layers to the cold, bleak world.

“Bridge of Spies” highlights a part of history that may or may not be known to young audiences but nonetheless should be told. Every life matters, as Donovan repeats and for Spielberg every story matters. “Bridge of Spies” is a film that should be looked at and learned from in years ahead.

Erin Vierra can be reached at [email protected] or @hippycinephile on Twitter.