The opening to Bridge of Spies consists of the film’s most riveting scenes. Largely wordless and scoreless, they introduce us to Soviet spy Rudolf Abel as he goes about his secret nickel-opening, coded message-receiving ways. He’s immediately an intriguing presence, Mark Rylance utilizing a bit of restraint in his great performance in order to subtly unearth layers. Rylance and Hanks–playing attorney James Donovan–are the one-two punch of the movie, their characters creating the central dynamic upon which Spielberg builds the story. Abel and Donovan are on two sides of the same coin, and the way we look at the two of them can be expanded to how we look at the Soviet Union and the United States or at the Cold War era and present day. There are connections galore.
The problem is that the middle of the film doesn’t quite flow as well as it should, seeing as it’s all about connecting three different storylines in preparation for the ending. There’s definitely some of that Coen brother humor in there to move things along, but it’s not enough to make up for the negatives arriving with the shift in focus (to Gary Powers and Frederic Pryor). It may all come back down to Donovan-Abel at the end, but it sure takes its sweet time–with underdeveloped supporting characters, I might add–getting there.
Spielberg is still able to keep things fairly interesting throughout, though, and heavy-handed parallel images aside (you’ll know it when you see it), his style keeps the film humming along nicely. He’s once again working with longtime cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, and they set the story in a world of shadows, of black and blue and gray punctuated by light. Fittingly, this is the story of integrity persevering through the darkness, of one man doing what he thinks is right rather than getting swallowed up by the corruption and by the politics. For half of the film, Donovan has to deal with an annoying cold while in Berlin, but this is not just a way to convey that Germany can get really damn chilly. It’s also a representation of the continued “cold” of the Cold War, of the way one man helped contribute to the prevention of actual war. He may be a forgotten aspect of those trying times, but he’s worth remembering.
-Sadly, Meg Ryan doesn’t get to do that much as Donovan’s wife.
-I have come to the conclusion that Jesse Plemons is in everything.
Photo credit: Bridge of Spies, DreamWorks Studios