Bridge of Spies
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Cast: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda, John Rue, Billy Magnussen, Amy Ryan, Austin Stowell, Jesse Plemons
Seen on: 28.12.2015
When Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) gets arrested for being a Russian spy in the USA, the FBI want to make really sure that his conviction sticks. So they ask lawyer James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) to defend Abel. Donovan is well known for being scrupulous and correct. Even though Donovan knows how much hatred will come his way if he defends a known spy, he accepts Abel as a client. A decision that has far-reaching consequences as it leads to Donovan being asked to handle the negotiations about the release of an USAmerican soldier who was captured by the Russians.
It fells like Bridge of Spies went almost completely unnoticed, despite the fact that it’s the newest Spielberg film with Tom Hanks. There was barely any marketing and nobody seemed to show much interest in the film at all. I myself almost didn’t watch it. This obscurity (well, obscurity for a Spielberg movie) is a fate the film certainly doesn’t deserve.
Bridge of Spies is an old-fashioned film with an old-fashioned story and old-fashioned characters. With the cold war, the almost total absence of women in the film and all those gentlemanly men in suits who put honor over everything else, Spielberg emulates not necessarily the time period itself perfectly, but certainly the (spy) movies of that time. And while I can’t applaud the sexism, and a little less figurative USA-USA-chanting would have been fine for me, there is something to be said for that old-fashioned sense of honor and, above all, doing the right thing in the right way.
One of my pet peeves – and by pet peeves I mean deep suspicion of an increasingly more popular and less questioned trope – is the way torture scenes are handled in popular media today. Not only does it feel like there are ever more torture scenes done by the good guys and in ever more shows and movies and genres, the narrative is sneaking in that torture is actually an effective means of gathering information and we just usually abstain from it because we’re the good guys. But in certain cases of extreme pressure, when the bad guys have been particularly bad and/or personal, we will throw our convictions out the window, torture the fuckers and it will inevitably lead to results – that are not only gained faster than by any official method, but are also always accurate. here’s the thing, though: torture doesn’t work that way. When you torture a person, they will tell you what they think you want to hear. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s highly ineffective if you’re at all interested in what actually happened.
And in a media culture that has this kind of main narrative about torture, it is wonderful to see a man as the protagonist and the hero of the story who is convinced that due process is not only a formality, but a necessity. Who will follow his own high moral standards even people tell him the are too high. Who simply acknowledges the humanity of even the bad guys and refuses to lose sight of that for even a second. [Although I could sense a slight unwillingness to see officials and representatives as people, certainly not good ones in any case.]
You couldn’t ask for anything better than having that story told by Spielberg, who definitely knows how to handle a film, and with Hanks in the lead, who perfectly captures Donovan’s deep humanity, and a script that balances the dry politics with a nice sense of humor. Despite everything, it’s not a perfect film. But it is one well worth seeing nevertheless.