Bridge of Spies review: ‘Rylance is mesmerising, Hanks is... Hanks’

PUBLISHED: 09:00 28 November 2015

Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance and Billy Magnusson in Bridge of Spie. Picture: Jaap Buitendijk/DreamWorks

Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance and Billy Magnusson in Bridge of Spie. Picture: Jaap Buitendijk/DreamWorks

©DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.  All Rights Reserved.

Another safe offering from Stephen Spielberg is saved by the performances of its two leading stars, says Michael Joyce.

This decade Spielberg has teased us with glimpses and promises of a parallel career in which he would’ve made films like Interstellar, Robopocaylpse, and Ready Player One. These days, though, Based On Real Events trumps Based on a Best Selling Novel with Spielberg so instead he’s chosen respectable, sensible and, dare I say, dull projects like War Horse, Lincoln, and now this. He’s already got three; how many more Oscars does he need?

Bridge of Spies is set against the backdrop of late ‘50s Cold War paranoia and American culture trying to assimilate the concept of nuclear annihilation into its psyche. It’s a fascinating milieu but after a perky opening in which Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Rylance) is arrested by the Feds, your heart sinks when the film looks set to be a court room drama with Hanks going it alone to defend the American way.

Flying in to save the day is Gary Powers (Stowell.) His U2 spy plane gets shot down over the USSR and he falls into the hands of Soviets and the last half of the film becomes a pleasantly involving tale of Cold War espionage set on either side of the Berlin Wall, with Hanks trying to negotiate a hostage exchange. It’s like a le Carre story with James Stewart replacing Smiley.

Insurance lawyer Donovan (Hanks) is initially reluctant to be Abel’s defence lawyer, knowing that it is going to cost him lots professionally and personally. His character’s reluctance may have been mirrored by Hanks at the prospect of playing opposite Rylance. Fifty years ago a version of the story was proposed with Alec Guinness in the role, and he wouldn’t have bettered Rylance’s work here. Abel, an inscrutable Soviet spy with a soft Scottish accent, is an energy-conserving showstopper of a role; so passive, so droll, he’s like a spent clown, and Rylance is mesmerising as him. In comparison Hanks is stuck playing his standard golly gosh role. Despite it all, Hanks holds his own. Never undervalue the ability to play decency convincingly, it’s very rare. Villainy and evil is easy, but honourable is tough.

Rating: 3/5 stars

For longer versions and reviews of The Good Dinosaur, Doctor Zhivago and the Blu-ray release of Robinson Crusoe on Mars, visit halfmanhalfcritic.weebly.com

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