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Bridge of Spies

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The Cold War. A time of intrigue, second-guessing, secrets and absurdity, at least according to Steven Spielberg’s blend of spy thriller, legal drama and dark humour. Screenwriters Joel and Ethan Coen along with Matt Charman integrate this humour with well-rounded characters, as lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks) defends accused Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) against not only legal prosecution but also the court of public opinion that is out for blood rather than justice. The film is both absorbing as a period piece and resonates with contemporary events, as it highlights the attitude towards perceived enemy aliens and the conflict between the rule of law and national security. As Donovan moves on to negotiate a prisoner exchange in East Berlin, Cold War antagonisms rise in a number of tense set pieces, yet the nationalism of the USA, the USSR and the GDR (acronyms are important, characters remind us) are largely ridiculed, exposing the absurdity of such ideologies. Bewildered yet determined in the face of these conflicting and confusing demands, Donovan remains a compelling anchor, the viewer subjected to his steady education in this strange and confusing world of espionage and expediency. To its great credit, Bridge of Spies avoids simplistic flag waving: the relative freedom of the West here is not something guaranteed by sentiment or belief, but contingent upon an adherence to the law and equality under it. Bridge of Spies therefore develops themes from Lincoln, demonstrating once again Spielberg’s skill at using historical settings to comment upon the current state of the world.

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7 Comments

  1. […] Directorial Achievement in Feature Film by the Directors’ Guild of America. The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Spotlight and The Revenant are up for Best Film at the BAFTA awards as well, and there is […]

  2. […] nominees are all focused on male characters and traditionally male endeavours – finance, law/espionage, (space) exploration, survival, journalism. Meanwhile, the “women’s” films […]

  3. […] up a further film acting award this weekend. Rylance’s quiet performance is a key part of Bridge of Spies’ sardonic wit, and he delivers a great supporting role to Tom Hanks’ likably earnest […]

  4. […] Rylance received his award for Best Supporting Actor in Bridge of Spies graciously and generously, especially when he described himself as a spokesman for the nominated […]

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