Free Press Journal

Bridge Of Spies: Spielberg’s splendid spy lore



Film: Bridge Of Spies

CAST: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda, Austin Stowell, Sebastian Koch, Amy Ryan,Will Rogers

DIRECTOR: Stephen Spielberg

Spielberg shows masterly attention to detail in this splendid, finely-nuanced historical spy thriller set during the height of the Cold War. Cinematographer  Januscz Kaminski’s cuts from rain-drenched, snow-blanketed environs to carefully composed close ups of a steely gaze showing the genial family man and lawyer Jim (Tom Hanks) Donovan is not a man to be trifled with.

Post WW2 Berlin is not the verdant, bright, bustling city that greets visitors today. Post WW2 Berlin is a grey, grimy, forbidding disaster zone whose citizenry was disallowed by the Soviets to rebuild the rubble. It was lucky it wasn’t flattened like Dresden when they shoot down in cold blood, the East Germans who tried to clamber over the wall, it’s hard to keep the shock and pity at bay.

But for this scene, and the one in which shots are fired at Donovan’s home, there is no violence worth the name. In Spielberg’s film, violence is a controlled beast. So, the louts who point Donovan in the direction of Unter den linden, take his coat in exchange. Gary (Austin Stowell) Powers, the US pilot who was shot down and the innocent student Frederic (will Rogers) Pryor are  shown being sleep deprived, never tortured by his captors.

When state-appointed onovan insists on defending the indefensible about his taciturn client Abel (Mark Rylance) who is a Soviet spy, your reviewer got exasperated thinking about legal beagles who seek to get their guilty clients off the hook. In Donovan’s case, he doesn’t even ask Abel about the remote possibility that he might be innocent. But Abel, is indeed, guilty as charged.

Scriptwriters Joel and Ethan Coen flesh out nuanced characters, as fine as in any novel worth its reading salt. The stoicness of Abel’s character is underlined time and again, so much so that his fortitude and detachment  makes him almost robot-like. Donovan is a stark contrast, with his earnestness to do the right thing for his client.

He believes, for instance (against all odds) that his client is entitled to a fairer deal. Having secured a prison term, instead of capital punishment, Donovan is ready to challenge the incarceration in the US Supreme Court.

There is an interesting scene where the “Irish on both sides” Donovan tells the German origin CIA agent Hoffman (Scott shepherd) that their Irish-German Americaness is protected by the Constitution. It is also significant that with the exception of a reference to the Rosenbergs (who were executed for spying for the Soviets), there is no Jewish Commie presence in the film. I find the absence noteworthy because 90 percent of the Jews embraced Communism.

The singularity is not that Trotsky or Marx were Jewish but that the Jews, in reiterating their faith in social justice, turned their backs on God. To be a Jewish atheist then, is not an academic question, but a cosmic one. Bridge of Spies makes for compelling viewing.