Steven Spielberg's latest film opens with a series of camera shots showing a man painting a self portrait. Only after several camera moves do we realize that we still have not seen the man, only his reversed reflection and his painted image of how he views himself.
Those themes resonate brilliantly in Spielberg's BRIDGE OF SPIES.
The spy is Rudolf Abel, a quiet artist born in England but with definite red ties. He is played to perfection by Mark Rylance, as deserved Oscar Nominee for Best Supporting Actor for his role.
This is the late fifties, a time perfectly evoked by Spielberg's reliably first-rate production team. The Cold War is at its peak, US/Russia relationships are at their worst and every school child is taught to duck and cover under the desks to avoid an atomic bomb blast. (a rather ineffective step in retrospect)
Enter Tom Hanks as Insurance lawyer Jim Donovan.
Pegged by the government and his firm as the perfect candidate to provide legal defense to Abel in his trial for espionage, Donovan wears his conviction to the Constitution proudly and begins to defend Abel a bit more effectively than anyone intended.
When the US Spy plane with Frances Gary Powers is shot down over Russia the American pilot is tried in the USSR and convicted of war crimes, the plot thickens. The CIA is soon enlisting Donovan to negotiate a prisoner trade.
There is no better actor in our generation to portray a man of conviction than Tom Hanks. He is excellent in every scene, delivering every word with a blend of gravitas, humor and patriotism that make you stand up and cheer.
The screenplay is fantastic, and no wonder, with Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men, Fargo) penning alongside newcomer Matt Charman.
There are powerful scenes of real emotion in SPIES, including perfect recreations of the building of the Berlin Wall down to the courtrooms and suburbs of the late 50's.
Spielberg is at the top of his game, bringing the same suspense to historical recreations that he did in Lincoln, but driving a much greater sense of urgency and suspense, especially during Donovan's trips to Berlin that fill the last half of the movie.
Based on the true events, the conclusion was filmed on the actual bridge where the proposed prisoner exchange happened.
Between the settings, Spielberg's steady hand, Hanks perfect performance, a terrific supporting cast and Thomas Newman's (Skyfall, Spectre) music score, BRIDGE OF SPIES depicts important Americans fighting to uphold what makes this country so different, and so powerful.
As Donovan (Hanks) argues the importance of a fair trial for Abel as an expression to our enemies that clarifies our superiority to them, his speech calls into question how Abel's mission is any different than Powers, and our expectations around the nature of Powers' treatment in Russia in relation to the US handling of Abel. Powerful words, perfectly delivered.
There are lessons to be learned here. BRIDGE OF SPIES delivers them in brilliant style and gets an A.