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Movie Review: Bridge Of Spies

... Shomini Sen/CNN-IBN:

Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks together in a film always hold a lot of promise. One is regarded as one the best storytellers of our generation, the other is considered as one of the most versatile actors. The crackling duo come together for spy thriller ‘Bridge of Spies’ based on a real incident during the Cold War.

The film opens in 1957- a time when Cold war was at its peak and more than war, it is the anticipation of it that kept both USA and the Soviet on tender hooks. At this time several men were trained as spies and sent to either side to extract information with a strict pre –condition that if they were ever caught by the enemy state, their own country will not identify as their own.

Amidst all this tension, Soviet KGB spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) is arrested and charged with espionage by the American government. Attorney James Donovan(Hanks) is entrusted with the job of defending him. Primarily an Insurance lawyer, Donovan soon finds himself fighting for the rights of Abel- knowing very well that he will not win the case. But surprisingly, he manages to convince the Judge to wave of Abel’s impending death sentence and instead grant a life sentence for his client.

Seeing his earnest approach even for the wronged in the society, CIA appoints him to negotiate the release of Francis Powers – a CIA spy held captive in the Soviet in exchange for Abel. All this has to be done in secrecy (Donovan tells his family he is going for a fishing trip) and in Berlin, which itself is going through turmoil with the Berlin wall dividing its people.

With a tense premise like this Spielberg indulges in some old fashioned thriller- which in this day and age of sleek, sharp, cutting-edge cinema can be a tricky affair. The narrative is slow and the film is crawling in the first half. It is the second half, when Donovan reaches Berlin for the negotiations, that the pace picks up- perhaps because too many things happen on the screen at the same time.

Some of the best scenes, of course are reserved between Rylance and Hanks where the lawyer and his intriguingly quiet client share unusual stories. Many a times, Donovan asks why is Abel not worried and Abel always comes up with one answer “Will it help?” – thus establishing both their characters well.

Hanks, of course, brings in his amazing talent to the film and makes Donovan a very lovable character- one who is stubborn, honest and full of optimism. He may be a hard nosed lawyer on the outside but is equally a humanitarian, who not only negotiates the exchange of two spies between two countries but also has his say in releasing an innocent American student arrested on false charges by Germany. In a train ride from west to east Berlin, Donovan is stunned to numbness as he sees people being shot at for attempting to cross the wall. But in the next scene, the same Donovan is seen cleverly negotiating with the CIA for the release of two Americans in exchange of one.

A stark contrast to Hanks Donovan is Rylance’ Abel. A face perpetually drawn to a frown, Abel is a man of few words and subtle reactions. Even when he is released and sent back home- he hardly shows his feeling of relief or happiness to anyone. He emotes through art and quietly makes masterpieces one after the other.

‘Bridge Of Spies’ is a film which needs the viewers’ attention- especially if you are not well versed with history of Cold War. Many things are left for the viewers to understand- the director takes that liberty in assuming that everyone has done their homework well. On several occasions as a viewer one might feel too many characters are being introduced and too many intricacies exist in the plot line.

Watch it for the charming Tom Hanks- no character is alien to this actor. He makes it the most endearing – as always.

Rating: 3/5