Bridge of Spies Blu-ray Review
I imagine that the true story of James B. Donovan is fascinating on paper. Donovan worked closely with the US government throughout the Cold War negotiating hostage transfers with various countries. The problem is that the actual art of negotiating doesn’t translate well on film because having two people talk about what they want and all the bad things that could happen is a lot less suspenseful than watching those actions transpire on screen. But somehow, Steven Spielberg managed to make this dialogue heavy film intense and suspenseful, despite the fact that it’s a spy movie without any action.
James (Hanks) is a successful insurance lawyer that’s asked to represent accused Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Rylance) in what becomes a national trial. James takes the case with the mistaken belief that Abel could receive a fair trial. He loses the case, but soon after, the CIA contacts James to help them negotiate a prisoner swap with the Soviets after a US pilot is captured on Soviet soil. The problem is that everything has to be off the books and James is left in East Berlin to fend for himself, negotiate with the Soviets and the East Germans and find a way to get back alive. When you remember that he’s just an insurance lawyer, you quickly realize how challenging the situation is for him.
Of course, the biggest selling point of the film is that it stars Tom Hanks and is directed by Steven Spielberg and the dynamic duo doesn’t disappoint. Hanks is still one of the best and most likeable actors working today and he once again draws the audience into the film and forces you to feel for his character. We didn’t really know the captured pilot or care too much about the other characters, but we did care about James and I was captivated by Hanks’ performance, who kept us on the edge of our seats as he tried to navigate the dirty political waters in Cold War Russia. Mark Rylance deserves a lot of credit as well because we should have hated him for being a Russian spy. But he added a vulnerability to Rudolf Abel that added an extra depth to the story that otherwise wouldn’t have been there.
I don’t believe Spielberg is quite the director he used to be, but he’s still one of the best directors working today. I’ve been frustrated with the cinematography of Janusz Kaminski since he’s been using the exact same tricks since MINORITY REPORT, but I don’t see Spielberg cutting him loose any time soon. That said, Spielberg does a really great job with BRIDGE OF SPIES and he has a way of creating tension in a scene when it’s not overtly obvious. That was a big challenge in Spies because it was important for Spielberg to help the audience feel the tension and stress, even if the danger to James wasn’t always clear.
BRIDGE OF SPIES is a little bit of a slow burn and although James is in constant danger, there’s really not much that happens to him, so fans looking for another Bourne movie are going to be severely disappointed. The strength of the film is with another outstanding performance from Tom Hanks and the great direction of Steven Spielberg and they’re worth the price of admission.
Video: BRIDGE OF SPIES looks fantastic on Blu-ray
Audio: The audio was fine.
A Case of the Cold War: Bridge of Spies (17:44): Spielberg does a lot of talking in this featurette, but everyone shows up to talk about the real life events, the story’s importance and briefly how the film came to be.
Berlin 1961: Re-Creating the Divide (11:34): The same group show sup to talk about the wall.
U-2 Spy Plane (8:46): The real life downing of the spy plane is covered here. This should have been included in the first featurette.
Spy Swap: Looking Back on the Final Act (5:40): The finale of the film is covered here, albeit too briefly.