Bridge of Spies is rated 12A for infrequent strong language, moderate threat, violence
The Scoop – Gripping, humane and good-humoured, Bridge of Spies is a superior thriller.
It’s 1957, and in the midst of escalating tensions between America and the Soviet Union, a nondescript Brooklyn artist is arrested as a Russian spy. Since Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance) refuses to cooperate with the US government, he faces either thirty years in prison or the electric chair.
Enter insurance lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks), who has been asked to represent Abel in court. Donovan’s superiors expect him to do little more than show up: but he isn’t that kind of man. Against the objections of his wife Mary (Amy Ryan), his colleagues and the American public, Donovan sets about fighting Abel’s corner. His principles will lead him on a cloak-and-dagger trip to East Berlin, and into an unlikely friendship with the mercurial spy.
Well, that was a genuine delight. I wanted to catch Bridge of Spies before it left cinemas (because apparently I’m a Best Picture completist, despite kind of hating the Oscars), but I think I was worried it might be one of those films you’re supposed to think is good because it’s glossy and directed by Spielberg, but is actually quite dull. Not so.
Bridge of Spies is immensely likeable, its story told with a lightness of touch that staves off most of the worthiness and potential for sentimentality. I was captivated by its evocation of a fraught time in history, and moved by its portrait of the connection between Abel and Donovan. As far as the acting is concerned, Mark Rylance, I suspect, might actually be magic.
Incidentally, I saw the film in the middle of a weekday on the tiniest possible screen, with a brilliant little audience of six or so people who gasped and laughed in all the right places. These things make all the difference.
- Did you enjoy the film, and why or why not? Where would you rank it among Steven Spielberg’s other work? What are some of his strengths and weaknesses as a filmmaker?
- What did you make of Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance in the lead roles? What difference might it make that we are very familiar with Tom Hanks as a screen presence, while Rylance rarely appears onscreen?
- What did you think of the film’s script, written by Matt Charman and the Coen brothers? Many scenes are just dialogue: how successful were the filmmakers in making these scenes interesting? How valuable was the element of humour?
- How did you feel about Abel and Donovan, and the friendship they develop? What fundamental differences are there between them, and what common qualities do they share?
- What is the distinction between the kind of defence Donovan’s colleagues want him to offer Abel, and the kind he actually offers? What bigger issues – about justice, about human rights, about America – are at stake?
‘Who we are – is that not the greatest weapon we have in this Cold War?’ – Donovan
- How does the film explore the importance of what you do versus how you appear? How does Donovan resist being guided by the judgments of others? How significant are his outward ordinariness and ‘everyman’ qualities?
- What fundamental principles is Donovan guided by? Do you think he is right to fight so hard for Abel, even when it puts his family at risk? Are there situations where it isn’t right to stick to our principles?
‘There’s a cost to these things. To both your family and your firm.’ – Mary
- What does Bridge of Spies have to say about the value of each human life? How might the film’s story and its themes be relevant to today’s conflicts, and today’s world?
‘Every person matters.’ – James Donovan