James Donovan (Tom Hanks) delivers his papers to a soldier at the Berlin Wall in Bridge of Spies.

James Donovan (Tom Hanks) delivers his papers to a soldier at the Berlin Wall in Bridge of Spies.

Reel Reviews: Bridge of Spies sets the bar high

Taylor and Howe say, Director Steven "Spielberg delivers Bridge of Spies with a noir nod."

  • Oct. 23, 2015 7:00 p.m.

American lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks) enters a world of shadowy men in trench coats when he is chosen to defend alleged Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance).

The justice system wants Abel put away, but when Francis Gary Powers’ spy plane goes down and he is captured, Abel becomes a valuable commodity. Donovan, as a private citizen, is asked by his government to facilitate a trade.

We say, “Spielberg delivers Bridge of Spies with a noir nod.”

TAYLOR: I loved nearly everything about Bridge of Spies. From its Hollywood rain-soaked, high contrast look, to its lighter moments, which are properly spaced, the film doesn’t waste any time in setting up the characters and plot.

The players are perfect. The rare moments where boundaries of believability become stretched are forgivable, due to that Spielberg earnestness. It looks and feels like 1957 and the Cold War is at its chilliest, but this is not like Schindler’s List. Although both are beautiful and perfectly shot films, I think above everything else Bridge of Spies is Spielberg having fun. Yes the Berlin Wall is bleak, but magnificent. This film is a painting in light and shadow of men in fedoras, smoking.

HOWE: One word sums up Bridge of Spies, fantastic.

The actors all give outstanding performances. The storyline is captivating and the de-saturated look used throughout the movie to show we are in the 1950s is subdued.

Every now and then the scene is dotted with a tiny amount of colour to show there is a sign of hope, that all this will end peacefully.

Bridge of Spies ticks every box: interesting, gripping, humorous and occasionally, almost emotional.

TAYLOR: That’s the thing: “almost emotional.” The two main characters in the movie are both taciturn fellows.

“You don’t seem worried,” says Donovan. “Would it help?” asks Abel.

Cover that in a grey wool blanket and a bit of dirty snow and you start to get the feeling. Spielberg turns up the music and tries pretty obviously to pull at our heartstrings, but I still fell for the clichés at the Berlin Wall and the JFK B-story treatment of his lonely family. Clichés are clichés because they’re true. Still, I’m docking half a point for going sentimental rather than frosty. This could have been a straight-up spy thriller, much cooler, all hard stares and ticking clocks. This would have been better for Bridge of Spies, but it’s still an excellent movie.

HOWE: In Bridge of Spies, Hanks does what he does best. I think he must be one of the finest actors of his generation. I cannot recall being disappointed by him in a film, well maybe Cloud Atlas. I would definitely recommend Bridge of Spies – just remember your warm coat, it gets a little chilly.

– Howe gives Bridge of Spies 4.5 paint sets out of 5.

– Taylor gives it 4.5 years in Camelot.

Brian Taylor and Peter Howe review the latest movies for The Morning Star every Friday and Sunday.