Taking us back to the tension of the opening gambets of the Cold War, Bridge Of Spies saw Steven Spielberg directing a script by the Coen Brothers with Tom Hanks in the lead role, so it was an early tip for Academy Award success. This looked even more likely with its arrival on the big screen for a winter 2015 release, and it subsequently went on to pick up 6 nominations, including Best Picture, as well as Best Actor In A Supporting Role for Mark Rylance, who went on to win the award.
Ethan and Joel Coen have already had a number of great movies that dip into the depths of the past for inspiration with Oh, Brother Where Art Thou, True Grit and their 1950s Hollywood comedy, Hail, Caesar!, so the screenplay that they wrote with Matt Charman made for an impressive historical drama. Having recently been a big part of the final screenplay for Angeline Jolie’s World War II biopic sports drama, Unbroken, they were well placed to bring the U-2 spy plane incident to the big screen.
Cinema: Bridge of Spies landed at the cinema in the US first on the 16th October 2015, followed by the UK release date of the 27th November 2015 over a month later. It wen toe-to-toe in the UK with another historical drama in Black Mass starring Johnny Depp and Benedict Cumberbatch, so it didn’t necessarily have a walk in the park at the box office where it performed well with solid reviews.
DVD, Blu-ray and digital download: If you misses the cinema release, you’ll be able to see the Spielberg/Coen Brothers collaboration on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download when its released in the UK on the 28th May 2016, following on from the US release on the 2nd February 2016.
The focus of the plot is on New York lawyer, James Donavan (Hanks), who is thrust into the East vs. West game of cat and mouse that was the Cold War when the Soviet Union shoot down a US spy plane. Having defended Russian KGB spy, Rudolf Abel, who’d been operating out of New York before being arrested and sentenced to 45 years in prison, he’s seen as a potential arbiter in the situation.
He gets sent by the CIA into the cauldron of the negotiations between the two superpowers to secure the release of the captured American U-2 pilot, Francis Powers, with the USSR looking to leverage their newfound bargaining chip as much as possible. It’s a tense situation to be in and East Berlin as the location for the negotiations he’s more than a little outside of his comfort zone. You can read more about the history of the situation at the Office of the Historian.
Bridge Of Spies trailer:
Apart from Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips) as the insurance lawyer who’s swept up onto the international politics of the incident, the Bridge Of Spies cast doesn’t have much in the way of big name actors in it. Perhaps the biggest is the great Alan Alda (M*A*S*H), who plays Thomas Watters, a senior partner at Donovan’s law firm. Mark Rylance (The Other Boleyn Girl) plays Rudolf Abel, Scott Shepherd stars as CIA operative Hoffman, Amy Ryan (Birdman) plays James’ wife, Mary and Sebastian Koch (A Good Day To Die Hard) as East German lawyer Vogel.
With Steven Spielberg in the directors chair and the Coen Brothers behind the typewriter, alongside Matt Charman, there’s a fair amount of heavyweight Hollywood might behind the film. It’s been produced by Spielberg, Marc Platt and Kristie Macosko Krieger with executive producers Daniel Lupi, Adam Somner, Jeff Skoll and Jonathan King. Music is by Thomas Newman, and the movie has been edited by Michael Kahn with Janusz Kaminski as the director of photography.
DVD and Blu-ray extras
A Case Of The Cold War: Bridge Of Spies – Interviews with both Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, who lived through the period, sharing their own experiences from their youth and explaining how this influenced them when looking at the film.
U-2 Spy Plane: Beale Air Force Base – Footage of the U-2 plane at Beale Air Force Base, California.
Spy Swap: Looking Back On The Final Act – A special feature on the exchange of Soviet spy Rudolf Abel and U-2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers at Glienicke Bridge during the incident, which has been recreated by Spielberg’s production.
Berlin 1961: Recreating The Divide – Showing how the film worked to give the Berlin sets historical accuracy using footage and imagery from the early 1960s.
It’s not hard to see why Bridge Of Spies was a dead cert for nominations at the Oscars, but you can also see why it didn’t sweep the board. It’s a very impressive movie with great performances and a taught delivery, but it just over-bakes things at the fringes. Tom Hanks rarely fails to deliver the goods and that’s the case here with a deft and controlled performance. Read our full review for more details.
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Tom Hanks looking very pensive on the front cover of the DVD, and looking very lonely on the Glienicke Bridge in Berlin for one of history’s most renowned spy swaps.