I am an old man in a young man's body. I don't mean that in the pretentious sense that i am an "old soul" or any of that kind of claptrap. I mean that I am old because I have started to fall asleep in movies. This isn't because I am bored or that the film is bad and not worth my attention. It's because I have a tendency to start to fall asleep at around 9 p.m. It doesn't matter what day of the week, or if I've had a particularly arduous day (I'm terrified how I'm going to manage having children with my sleep needs - I'll probably just go to bed when they do).
This is what happened to me during the middle third of Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies, a very good film that does not deserve to be slept through. I mention all of this as a disclaimer against any factual inaccuracies or opinions you may feel have been less than thoroughly informed because I was semi-conscious during the film for part of its runtime. I will try to be better in the future, or to have more caffeine before I settle in for a movie. By the way, the film started at 7:30, and is not that long. Ugh.
Tom Hanks stars as Jim Donovan, a successful insurance lawyer and family man who, during the height of the Cold War, is roped into providing a dummy defense for an alleged Soviet spy named Rudolf Abel, played by Mark Rylance. No one's fool but his own, Donovan realizes that he is there to provide a defense only so that the government can claim they have given the man due process and a fair trial, only to have him convicted more or less without obstacle. Donovan is a stand-up guy who has a reputation to defend, so he decides to actually try to build a case for Abel, ultimately saving the man's life and preventing his summary execution.
Donovan's strategy pays off well, when it becomes apparent that Abel could be used as part of a trade with the Soviet Union when they capture an American fighter pilot who has been shot down behind enemy lines. Not wanting to escalate the already razor-thin ties between the countries, the two warring powers decide to swap countrymen. Donovan is brought in to broker that exchange.
Bridge of Spies, like Spielberg's recent Lincoln, is another in a long line of successful dramatizations of historical events by the film-maker. Spielberg is ably assisted by a sharp script that is co-written by the Coen brothers, as well as a subtly moving score by hitmaker, Thomas Newman. Janusz Kaminski's trademark cinematography is also on full display, with plenty of windows for beautiful light to filter through. Kaminski also visually codes the various locations of the film based on how much color is present in the frame. Donovan's just-this-side-of-treacly home life is swathed in comforting amber tones, whereas his time in Germany is practically black and white in its drab grayness. Although the film ends on a rousing tone, Spielberg executes it with a lighter touch than he is wont to do in his more shameless films (War Horse, for example).
Hanks, who is incapable of delivering a bad performance, brings a wry sensibility to a character who could have easily been encased in brass nobility if played by anyone else. He is certainly a man of considerable integrity, but this is born out through his actions, rather than any sanctimonious attitude or pretentious gravity. He's also very much a civilian, so when we see him witness to shockingly sudden and brutal killings on the streets of Berlin, the horror on his face is plain.
My favorite performance is by Rylance, who is underutilized in the film. He is a pragmatist and a minimalist, as quiet as he is intelligent. Donovan remarks to Abel that he is strangely unfazed by his predicament, to which Abel responds, "Would it help?" in a manner that is disarmingly funny and sounds like a legitimate question. If there is anyone who deserves awards consideration, it is Rylance, who has already made his way on the theater circuit and is now beginning to break into film and television in a big way (he's also the star of BBC's Wolf Hall).
This being a Spielberg film, it is also not particularly spry at 141 minutes. This, I believe, is the reason I started to doze off. Once Donovan receives his international assignment, the film drags a bit in its pacing when he arrives in Europe. I don't quite remember what he was doing for the thirty minutes the film spends before the big deal happens, but my lack of knowledge made the final, gripping sequence no less comprehensible, so I'm guessing it could have been trimmed, anyway.