Published Oct 16, 2015Award-winning director Steven Spielberg and American actor Tom Hanks may be tied to the title, but the most interesting — if somewhat overlooked — aspect of their new film, historical drama Bridge of Spies, is perhaps its writers: Ethan and Joel Coen, as well as lesser-known British screenwriter and playwright Matt Charman. The Coen brothers alone have written some of the most revered films of the past four decades and have brought a sense of levity to some of the darkest subjects seen in the cinema, making them the perfect choice to spruce up the dialogue for a film about the Cold War and the ludicrous politics that surrounded it.
It's hard to imagine a film about an insurance lawyer (Hanks) negotiating the release of an American spy plane pilot (Austin Stowell) caught in Soviet territory in exchange for a Russian spy (Mark Rylance) being much fun, but Bridge of Spies is an engrossing and enjoyable watch, and one that will be on everybody's list come awards season.
That's because, much like many of the Coen brothers' films, Bridge of Spies operates as a comedy in disguise. This is a film filled with funny moments — from Rylance as captured spy Rudolf Abel's Alfred E. Neuman-like recurring catchphrases, to underused second-stringer Jesse Plemons' stunned military mannerisms, to Hanks's character's inability to tolerate any of the bullshit presented from either side before him — and it fully captures the lunacy of the times.
Because of this, Bridge of Spies will likely resonate most with those who lived during the Cold War — the generation who likely grew up learning how to tuck like a turtle in case of an A-bomb, and fill bathtubs with fresh water — and especially those on the Western side.
But to keep things even-keeled, Spielberg has created a film packed with scenes depicting the atrocious practices of both military forces — whether it's teaching spy plane pilots the proper ways to kill themselves so America's secrets don't get out, to students being gunned down while trying to cross the Berlin Wall — as a reminder of how harrowing everything really was. Still, it's nowhere near as over-the-top and heavy-handed as his last few military dramas, making this movie the first of his in awhile you definitely shouldn't miss.