Bridge of Spies DVD Review

DVD Review by Jon E Clist

The Premise
In the cold war, a lawyer, James B. Donovan recruited by the CIA and involved in an intense negotiation mission to release and exchange a CIA U-2 spy-plane pilot, Francis G. Powers that was arrested alive after his plane was shot down by the Soviet Union during a mission- with a KGB intelligence officer, Rudolf Abel who was arrested for espionage in the US.

The Review
There is something about a good old spy story. Especially when it is based on a true story. Sure they have to say based or inspired on a true story, after all they are making a film that’s first purpose is to entertain an audience and the telling of an accurate moment in history is very secondary to that. Then you add in one of the great cinematic directors in the form of Steven Spielberg and something rather masterful happens. A great story told by a master filmmaker certainly makes for a great movie and this is that to a tee.

Of course this isn’t the first time a big screen version of this story has been attempted. According to Steven Spielberg in a press release for the movie, Gregory Peck came after the story in 1965. Alec Guinness agreed to play Abel, Gregory Peck would play Donovan, and Stirling Silliphant would write the script. MGM declined to make the movie at the time. It was 1965, Cold War tensions were high with Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis, and MGM was reluctant to get into the politics of the story. I guess timing really is everything and therefore here we finally see the story brought to life.

Huge attention to details has been taken in order to make this film as believable as possible. Principal photography began in September, 2014 and shot for 12 weeks on locations in New York, Germany and Poland, including many of the very places where the events in the story actually took place. European production kicked off in Berlin where the actual prisoner exchange of Abel and Powers took place. To film the crucial Berlin Wall sequences, production also travelled to Wrolcaw, Poland which more accurately resembles the East Berlin of 1961 than Berlin itself. Things certainly have changed in Germany in massive sweeps over the past century. Two World Wars and the Cold War has massively shaped the Germany that we see today and therefore it doesn’t completely resemble what it has been in the past anymore.

It also helps that this is obviously a great script, which interestingly enough was written by the Coen Brothers. This is the second collaboration between Steven Spielberg and The Coen Brothers. Spielberg was the executive producer for The Coen Brothers' True Grit. The Coen Brothers’ touch is strong on the dialogue with tastefully delicate jokes dotted throughout to help with the pacing and therefore creating wonderful dynamics as a juxtaposition for the dramatic thrilling moments.

Then the casting is completely and utterly perfect and the way that Mark Rylance plays Able is something rather special. I am sure that part of it comes down to the great dialogue and yet often times it is a masterfully delicate balance between content and delivery that makes for great cinematic performances and Rylance delivers big time.

The Verdict
A near perfect cinematic outing that is as intriguing as it is compelling. A+ for Hanks and A+ for Spielberg.

The Trailer

The Info
Releases: 24th February 2016
Rating: M – Contains violence and offensive language
Duration: 141 minutes 
Genre:  Thriller
Starring: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda
Director: Steven Spielberg (Schindler’s List, A.I.)

The Extras
The first Steven Spielberg film not to be scored by John Williams since The Color Purple (1985). In March 2015, after Williams' schedule was interrupted by a minor health issue which reportedly has since been corrected, Thomas Newman stepped in to replace him as composer.

This is Tom Hanks's fourth film collaboration with Steven Spielberg. They previously worked together on Saving Private Ryan (1998), Catch Me If You Can (2002) & The Terminal (2004). It is their first collaboration in over ten years.

Spielberg's father actually went on a foreign exchange to Russia as an engineer during the cold war, right after Francis Gary Powers was shot down, when there was tremendous fear and hostility between the two nations. Spielberg's father recalled seeing Russian citizens line up to look at Powers' crashed gear and "see what America did." When they saw the American engineers, they pointed at them and said, "Look what your country is doing to us," demonstrating the fear and rage the nations felt towards each other.

Was filmed under the title of St. James Place.

Partially filmed at Beale Air Force Base, California.

According to Tom Hanks in a press release for the movie, when James Donovan makes arguments to the Supreme Court about Rudolf, the words used in the movie were the same as the arguments presented to the Supreme Court.

The 27th feature film directed by Steven Spielberg.

Discounting any of the Indiana Jones films, this is the first Steven Spielberg film to be shot with anamorphic lenses since Hook (1991).

Steven Spielberg cast Mark Rylance in the movie after watching his Tony Award-winning performance in Twelfth Night (Rylance's third Tony win).

As seen in the film, Soviet agent Rudolph Abel received coded messages from his KGB handlers that were hidden inside a hollow U.S. nickel. The FBI first became aware of Abel's activities in 1953, when a Soviet agent mistakenly used one of the hollow nickels to buy a newspaper. The Brooklyn newsboy who had received the nickel thought it felt too light. He dropped the nickel on the sidewalk, and it popped open, revealing a piece of microfilm with a coded message inside. But FBI cryptologists were unable to crack the code until 1957, when a KGB defector, Reino Heyhanen, gave them the key to deciphering the code, and also gave up Rudolph Abel. The "Hollow Nickel Case" was also dramatized in The FBI Story (1959), starring James Stewart.

When Jim Donovan and Agent Huffman are in West Berlin, they walk past a German cinema where one of the movies playing is "Eins, Zwei, Drei." This is the German title of the American Cold War comedy One, Two, Three (1961), directed by Billy Wilder. In the film, James Cagney plays an American business executive working in West Berlin who, like Donovan, must cross over into East Berlin and negotiate with Soviet officials for the release of a political prisoner.

The rock band U2 took their name from the U-2 plane which is featured in this movie. The band's lead singer Bono's daughter Eve Hewson plays a role in the movie.

At the end of the film, it is explained that Donovan was also influential in the Bay of Pigs negotiations, shortly after the events of the film. Donovan was asked to obtain freedom for detained Cubans and Americans imprisoned during the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961. Over the course of several trips to the island, Donovan gained the confidence of Cuban Power Fidel Castro. He eventually secured the release of more than 1,100 survivors of the invasion, as well as another 8,500 political prisoners.

The white sports car used in Berlin, a Volvo P1800, was built after 1961, which is inconsistent with the movie, which takes place in 1957.

This movie is being released in the same 2015 year as a number of other spy, espionage, intelligence, and secret agent movies, with a couple of them also comedies. The films include Spy (2015), Spectre (2015), Sicario (2015), Mortdecai (2015), Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015), The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015), and even Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014), a 2014 film but which was mostly widely theatrically released in 2015.

60 Wall Street, completed in 1989, is clearly visible to the right of the Brooklyn Bridge in one of the early establishing shots set in 1957.