Big Picture Big Sound

Bridge of Spies Review

By Matthew Passantino

Lukewarm Cold War Thriller

Leading up to the release of Steven Spielberg's new film, "Bridge of Spies", I scrolled through the prolific director's IMDb page. What movies worked and what movies didn't, what trends in his project choices were evident and what were my favorite movies he's made.

Scrolling through his oeuvre, one thing became clear; Spielberg doesn't do anything small. His movies are grand - whether in terms of scope or length - oscillating between escapism and historical epics. "Bridge of Spies" is very much a historical epic by Spielberg, a film I liked but not without a few caveats.

Spielberg seldom writes the movie he directs but often attaches himself to complex and sprawling stories that are often a bit too dense for their own good. Here, he directs a screenplay written by Matt Charman and The Coen Bros., Joel and Ethan. The collaborative screenplay is heavy on speeches about America and patriotism, coupled with its fair share of legal jargon. All very important, given the plot of the film, but is often cause for the movie to feel like there is a lot of excess fat that could have been trimmed.


The movie opens with a man studying himself in a mirror as he does a self-portrait. Everything seems calm and serene, simply a man practicing a hobby he is quite good at. Soon, a sense of unease surrounds the man, who is being followed by FBI agents. We come to find out he is Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a Soviet Agent who has been arrested on espionage charges.

His case is assigned to James Donovan (Tom Hanks), an insurance lawyer in Brooklyn, who seems like the wrong person to defend an alleged spy. As a testament to his work ethic and reputation, James' superiors urge him to take the case, which he does. It is cause for concern in his family, and his wife (Amy Ryan, always lovely but woefully underused) pleads with him to rethink taking such a controversial case.

James will soon find out that taking on Rudolph's case ends up being much more than he bargained for. Not only does severe social implications come with defending a spy - James is essentially made a neighborhood pariah, subject to drive-by shootings and judgmental looks on the bus - but he becomes involved in a prisoner exchange during the Cold War. He must go to Berlin to ensure a U.S. pilot (Austin Stowell) and an American student (Will Rogers) are returned safely, in exchange for Rudolph.

"Bridge of Spies" opens on the perfect note of intrigue - who is Rudolph and why is he being followed - and ends just right. At a bloated 141 minutes, there is a lot of chatter of how deals are going to be made and who is going to make them, which often feels like the movie is buying time. There is a lot of interesting plot elements in "Bridge of Spies" but a lot of filler between those moments.

Hanks is characteristically good playing the everyday guy. He always brings his natural warmth and confidence to every role he takes. Rylance is superb in a very understated role. Rudolph is stoic and expressionless, often talking an octave just above a whisper. There is an unsettling calmness to him, especially in scenes where James tells him that the death penalty could be a possibility in his case.

"Bridge of Spies" is Spielberg's first film since 2012's "Lincoln". The two films share similar production qualities; both carefully constructed and meticulously crafted for the era they are about. Spielberg's go-to cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski, who contributes to the old-fashioned feel of Spielberg's history lessons with an almost black-and-white feel to every frame, shot "Bridge of Spies". From a production standpoint, "Bridge of Spies" is expectedly superb.

It's hard to rave about such a methodical film that is more worried about the conversations that lead to the compelling moments of the film. "Bridge of Spies" doesn't quite feel like the afterschool special that "Lincoln" did but fails to capitalize on the greatness that is scattered throughout an overall solid film.

What did you think?

Movie title Bridge of Spies
Release year 2015
MPAA Rating PG-13
Our rating
Summary Steven Spielberg's latest looks great and is performed well but only has a handful of great moments across a long running time.
View all articles by Matthew Passantino
More in Movies
Big News
Newsletter Sign-up
Connect with Us