HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Steven Spielberg is a man of many talents. He has directed a number of fantastic and good to great films over the years with nary a bad one among them (well, “1941” might be considered his major flop). Couple that with Tom Hanks and you can rarely go wrong. Then throw in a curve ball, such as the famed Coen brothers as the writing team and you have both my eyes and years attentive to the last second. Based up on the true story of lawyer James Donovan’s exploits during the cold war as a negotiator, Spielberg has done what he does best. Taking a great story and turning it into a great movie. There are going to be certain factors and events that are embellished, but Spielberg has always done that as artistic expression, using the events less as an unbreakable framework with which he must reside, but rather as a springboard to turn allegorical or parabolic in order to achieve the emotional effect that he wants at the end of the day. Mostly great, with a few slight stumbles, “Bridge of Spies” is a fantastically fun thriller, that is really less “thrills” and more a dancing game between three argumentative parties.
The year is 1957, and the opening scene of the film is of Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance), who just so happens to be a Soviet Spy during the height of the cold war, painting a picture of himself in front of a mirror. It’s fascinating to watch this simple scene, as you see the man. The man in the mirror, and the man one the canvas in a way that makes you think of the dichotomy of a spy and his different identities. They are all the same person on the exterior, but they are separate and distinct at the same time. Well, Rudolph is about to come to the end of his spy days, as the FBI have had him under surveillance for quite a while and are tightening the noose around his neck. Capturing him in a blaze of glory the federal government decides to try him for the crime of espionage. To make sure that due process is fulfilled, they bring in Insurance lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks) to act as his public defense in an effort to make it seem like the U.S. is giving Abel every courtesy
Agreeing to the offer, Donovan finds out that even though he’s been given a stacked decked, the players are not exactly wanting to play by the rules. The CIA is trying to bypass client/attorney confidentiality privileges and the Judge in charge of the trial has already convicted the man before the trial is even held. In a non-shocking turn of events Abel is convicted of espionage, but not before Donovan pleads for Rudolph Abel’s sentence to be life in prison vs. the death sentence. Much to the anger and bewilderment of the American populace Abel is granted that courtesy. Thankfully so, as not weeks after the trial an American pilot flying a super-secret jet over Soviet air space is shot down and captured. The Soviet and U.S. government now has leverage against the other in the form of their respective political prisoners and thanks to the prominence of the Rudolph Abel case, Donovan is once again called upon to negotiate a prisoner swap.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=63817[/img]“Bridge of Spies” plays out less like a thriller, and more like a game of cat and mouse, or a game of chess. The players are all on the board, but they are keeping their proverbial cards close to the vest. Abel is the U.S. government’s primary ace in the hole, but they desperately want back Airforce pilot Powers back as well. It seems like a simple exchange at first, but a monkey wrench is thrown into the plan when Soviet controlled East Germany captures an innocent exchange student and tries to wheedle in on the deal by swapping out the pilot for this student in the negotiations. So in effect, it’s a three way power struggle with the U.S. and the Soviet Union attempting an exchange with the subjugated East German people horning their way in the game in an effort to become a player on the chessboard with their own prisoner. The CIA has no intention to grant the East Germans their wish of horning in as they view the exchange student as nothing but a nuisance. However, Donovan feels much differently and plays a deadly game of cat and mouse trying to get BOTH powers and the exchange student at the same time. What ensues is nothing short of mesmerizing as we watch James Donovan play both sides against the other in an effort to get what he wants and still leave all parties completely happy.
If it wasn’t a true story I wouldn’t have believed it myself as Donovan’s book relates much of the same information as what the movie portrays. Donovan was slouch at the negotiating table as he, years later, negotiated an enormous sum of prisoners from Fidel Castro after the famed Bay of Pigs incident. Literally going in to free a little over 1000 men, women and children only to come out with over 9,000! Spielberg is on top of his game here, allowing the characters to feel organic and natural in their situations, while blending seamlessly with the sardonic nature of the Coen Brothers writing. There’s a little sardonic bit of wit between Abel and Donovan early on where Donovan asks the spy “Are you nervous” and Abel responds back with “Would it help”? That sarcastically humorous line acts as a grounding point for the two men and is repeated several times throughout the film, and it becomes even funnier and more sardonic as the movie moves along.
Spielberg sometimes plays the movie a bit too emotionally, as the movie’s heroic intentions seem a bit over the top, especially with him ragging on the Justice system and trying to make Donovan appear like a saint. Thankfully Tom Hanks saves the day here, giving Donovan a very solid, but sometimes nervous and flawed persona that grounds the character amongst his saint like qualities. Rylance is magnificent as the calm and collected Russian spy who has lived a life of espionage and is just wanting to see his family once more. While the incidents that happen during the film are of historical significance, Spielberg does a masterful job at humanizing the characters on both sides. In fact that seems to be the primary purpose of the movie. To show that whether right or wrong, good or bad, both sides of the cold war were human beings with feelings, families of their own. Rudolph Abel was a spy and he accepted his fate, and so were the numerous men and women who facilitated the prisoner exchange. Which may see duplicitous to Americans who want to see a cold cut black and white situation, but it is still true nonetheless.
Rated PG-13 for some violence and brief strong language
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=63825[/img]“Bridge of Spies’ comes to Blu-ray with an exemplary 1080p scope encode that shines in Hi-Def. Set during the late 1950’s, the film has a sort of earthy tone to the film that denotes the blandness of the time period’s color scheme as well as a penchant for overly brightened whites that somehow is commonly used to denote the “past” for some reason. This glossy bright white technique is used mainly in brightly lit scenes, as the darker, more intimate sequences look incredibly detailed and rely less on the boosted white levels. There is a teal color grading to those more intimate moments that combined with the earthy color tones looks distinguished and well detailed. The East German snow covered streets looking amazing, with bright white snow contrasting against the grey stone walls of the demolished buildings and the grey/blue looking uniforms of the military personnel. The stitching and wrinkles on Hank’s suit is easily noticed as well as the lines on the aging acting star’s face. Blacks are deep and inky with only a few signs of crush along the way and I didn’t notice any other major artifacting.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=63833[/img]The 7.1 DTS-HD MA track that is on the Blu-ray is a surprisingly robust and detailed track for what amounts to a drama. Dialog is above reproach, with crystal clear vocal replication and perfect balance with a finely nuanced set of surrounds and main channel separation. Fine details are sent through all 6 speakers beside the center channel ranging from the hooting of a train’s horn down to the crunching of snow beneath booted feet, or the soft crooning of the very “Spielbergish” score. Soft velvety melodies set the tone of the movie, with a fantastic sounding musical set that seems airy and sometimes light, with a sense of intense emotion that is so prevalent in an impassioned director such as Spielberg. LFE is tight and deep, adding weight to the more dramatic moments of the score, as well as accenting things like doors slamming or the roar and bustle of New York and the heavy rumblings of a train crossing the tracks. I was highly surprised at the level of activity for what seems like a standard drama, but the 7.1 track earns the use of all those channels and left me with a very surprised, but happy expression on my face.
• A Case of the Cold War: Bridge of Spies
• U-2 Spy Plane: Beale Air Force Base
• Spy Swap: Looking Back on the Final Act
• Berlin 1961: Recreating the Divide
While sometimes slow paced and less intense than one would expect, “Bridge of Spies” is an enthralling case of cold war politics. Guns and explosions are less of the focus as much as information gathering and moving characters across the map like chess pieces, but done in such a way that you really start to care about all the characters on the board. Rights and wrongs are still in play, but the humanity of the characters and the incredibly bold way in which James Donovan played both sides against the other to get those two men out is intensely rewarding. Audio and video are exceptional and despite the middling array of extras I have to give his a solid thumbs up. Highly recommended.
Starring: Tom Hanks, Alan Alda, Mark Rylance
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Matt Charman, Ethan and Joel Coen
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 7.1, Spanish, French DD 5.1
Studio: Disney/Buena Vista
Runtime: 141 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: February 2nd 2016
HTS Overall Score:86
Buy Bridge of Spies On Blu-ray at Amazon
Recommendation: Highly Recommended
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