Day 12: Bridge of Spies

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With awards season in full force, why not watch one of the Oscar nominees for best picture?

Today’s movie for the 30 Day Film Challenge is Bridge of Spies, directed by the legendary Steven Spielberg. I had actually already watched this film in September of last year when it was in theaters, but it was so good that I decided to watch it again with my parents today on DVD. (Thanks to a Valentine’s Day coupon from Redbox, we actually rented this movie for free!)

Set during the height of the Cold War, Bridge of Spies follows the true story of a Brooklyn-based insurance lawyer, James Donovan (Tom Hanks), who is asked by the US government to defend an arrested Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance). But this spy soon becomes a critical part in a negotiation for releasing an American U2 spy plane pilot, who is captured by the Soviets. Donovan becomes the key orchestrator of the negotiation, wanting to exchange Abel for the release of the American spy. However, the situation becomes complicated when an American student is arrested in East Berlin on suspicions of espionage, and the Germans are only willing to release him if they get Abel in return. Wanting to rescue both the American spy and the student, Donovan must use wit and tact to create an exchange that satisfies all the parties involved.

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Bridge of Spies was an absolute joy to watch the first time, and it was still great the second time around. There were just so many amazing things about the film, with the first being the plot itself. The original story was developed by Matt Charman, and the script was an original screenplay co-written by Charman and the Coen Brothers. Even though this is only Charman’s second time writing for a feature film, the story he created and the screenplay he wrote with the Coen Brothers are both phenomenal. The story is intriguing, and its flow and dialogue are clear, which is important in an espionage film, where things can easily get confusing. There are also moments of good humor sprinkled throughout the movie, which adds a dash of much needed levity to an otherwise very serious story.

But Bridge of Spies is more than just a good story. It is a movie with meaning. Similar to the film Argo, it is a movie that asks us to contemplate what is a true hero. Is it someone who does good, remarkable deeds under a spotlight for all to see? Sure, those people may be heroes, but there seems to be something more beautiful and admirable about the quiet heroes, those who don’t advertise their work and choose to stay away from the limelight as they help others. James Donovan’s courageous decision to take on a confidential mission that puts his life on the line to save the lives of others is truly moving and inspirational, and his calmness and perseverance in the face of difficulties is remarkable. His character is a great hero that audiences can look up to and aspire to be.

The film also has touching portrayals of human relationships, especially the unlikely friendship that develops between James Donovan and Rudolf Abel. Their friendship is never explicit, which is understandable, given that a visible friendship between an American and a Soviet spy during the Cold War could only spell disastrous consequences for them both. However, through their actions, such as Donovan’s attempt to save Abel from the death penalty and Abel’s final gift to Donovan, we see a bond between them, which makes us realize that when we strip away all nationalities and politics, each of us are simply human beings capable of appreciating and helping one another. But unfortunately, all too often, our backgrounds and circumstances segregate us from one another and prevent us from developing flourishing relationships. It’s just like how soldiers wearing different uniforms on the battlefield are enemies, but if they were to take off their uniforms and meet their “enemies” in a place other than the battlefield, they could very well all be great friends.

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The cast for Bridge of Spies also delivered phenomenal performances, especially Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance, who was nominated for an Oscar as best supporting actor. Hanks’ and Rylance’s acting are so natural that you don’t view them as actors playing the characters, but rather as the characters themselves.

Steven Spielberg was also a great director. He is truly a masterful storyteller that knows how to piece together image and sound into a cohesive and powerful film. One of my favorite parts of the movie is actually the first ten or so minutes, where there is barely any dialogue. Just image and some natural sounds are enough to keep the story moving. In a time where many films are heavily dialogue and require dialogue to help audiences understand the story, Spielberg is able to return cinema’s roots and primarily use images to tell the story. The mise-en-scene also speaks volumes in this film, often serving as an effective and powerful vehicle for conveying emotions and setting the tone of a situation. The cinematography paired with Thomas Newman’s musical score also exudes a beautiful elegance.

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Bridge of Spies was an outstanding film, and I highly recommend a watch. Since the film has been doing relatively less PR than many of the other Oscar nominees, I’m not sure how well they will do at the Oscars, but award or no award, Bridge of Spies remains a wonderful film and one of the best movies from 2015.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

***Movie Info***

Title: Bridge of Spies

Year: 2015

Director: Steven Spielberg

Writers: Matt Charman, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Cast: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance

Run time: 2 hr 15 min

Rating: PG-13

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