Road To The Oscars – Bridge of Spies

Bridge of Spies
Director: Stephen Spielberg
Screenplay: Matt Charman, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Starring: Tom Hanks, Mark Ryland, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda

*Contains spoilers*

The Plot
In New York in 1957, insurance lawyer James B. Donovan (Hanks) is asked to defend accused Russian spy Abel Rudolph (Mark Rylance) in court. Rudolph is believed to be a KGB spy, but in order to reduce the amount of propaganda the Soviet Union uses against the USA, they want to make sure he has a fair trial, which Donovan commits himself to carrying out on Rudolph’s behalf, despite the anger and hatred he and his family suffer through as a result. As Rudolph is found guilty and sent to prison, American spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers is shot down and captured by the Russians, and American economics student Frederic Pryor is arrested for being a spy in East Germany right as the wall goes up. The Soviet Union sends a letter to Donovan pretending to be his family, asking if the USA would consider a prisoner swap – Rudolph for Powers, and the CIA unofficially helps Donovan orchestrate travel to Germany so the exchange can take place. Donovan, however, learns of Pryor’s capture and negotiates the swap of both Powers and Pryor, without the CIA’s support. After lengthy negotiations and confusing meetings with government officials, Donovan’s resolve to bring both American prisoners home begins to gather strength and is eventually a success.

Why it should win Best Picture
Everyone loves spy film, right? Especially when it’s a Spielberg/Hanks spy film, and when it’s based on a true story it’s even better. A great cast leads this film, and while it’s probably the quietest of the nominees, it’s by no means the weakest. The quiet mystery Rylance employs in his portrayal of Rudolf Abel opposite Hanks’ wry, straight-shooting tone is beautifully orchestrated and makes for a wonderfully tense first half of the film. Hanks’ portrayal of Donovan is reminiscent of old Hollywood stalwarts Gregory Peck and Jimmy Stewart – it’s undeniably Tom Hanks doing what Tom Hanks does best by playing a funny, whip smart, courteous man, but it just work every single time. Once the story moves to Europe, and Donovan begins to navigate the confusing world of East and West Germany, politics and espionage begin to blur together creating an intriguing spy story and period piece so finely detailed it’s impossible not to be impressed with the film as a whole.

Why is shouldn’t win Best Picture
Given that the Coen brothers were called in to punch up the original script, I hoped for a little more wryly amusing dialogue and scene set-ups. I also think the American student’s story deserved a little more attention. To me, it often felt like an afterthought, sort of shoehorned without a lot of screentime. Maybe that was done on purpose, to illustrate how little the Americans cared about getting him back, but when we were first introduced to the student it was so rushed that I felt like it was a little unclear how his arc related to the story of Abel and Powers, which made the story a little unbalanced. Essentially that is the main critiscim of the film – a general unevenness in giving the right amount of screentime to each arc, and a film with an unneven story can really take it out of the running for the award.

Have you seen Bridge of Spies? I’d love to know what you think!

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