“Bridge of Spies” examines personal side of Cold War

For most of us, we were born near the end or after the Cold War. We are aware of its effects on life throughout the late 20th century, but we don’t really know what it was like to live through the fear of nuclear war.

Spielberg brings the tension of the Cold War to life, showing the effects it had on both Americans, as well as Europeans.

Based on a true story, “Bridge of Spies” follows insurance lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks) who is asked to be the defense attorney for an alleged Soviet spy. Rather than roll over and allow the trial to be ceremonial, Donovan tries to mount the best defense that he can in order to save the spy’s life. This is met with great disdain from the general public, leading to great anger directed at Donovan and his family.

But when an American spy pilot is shot down over Russia, Donovan is sent to negotiate a prisoner exchange with the Soviets in East Germany. He arrives just as the Berlin Wall is being erected and sees the horror of the conditions in East Germany as well as the oppression.

“Bridge of Spies” is a story about people. It just happens to be set in the Cold War. It explores the prejudices inherent in human nature and also lifts up the compassion that can be hard for some people to display. The characters are deep and established. They feel like they have a place in the world they live in.

The film has typical Spielberg flares. There are plenty of smoky rooms with shafts of light, bays of windows providing a wall of backlight and the capture of reactions that is prevalent in Spielberg films.

While the characters and the visual language are interesting, the story is a bit stale. It especially lags in places. With a runtime of two hours and 21 minutes, this makes for a very long watch. It is apparent that certain elements of the story were cut or reordered, indicating it had the potential to be longer.

Length and pacing aside, “Bridge of Spies” is an excellent movie but it is just not an excellent Spielberg movie. Tom Hanks provides an excellent performance with an accent that is not too over-the-top (unlike films such as “Catch Me If You Can” or “Captain Phillips”). Mark Rylance, who plays the alleged Soviet spy, also does a great job and plays off Hanks well.

The Cold War may be long over, but “Bridge of Spies” is a film that provides great performances and an excellent look at the emotions of the time.