10: BRIDGE OF SPIES
You have to hand it to Steven Spielberg, when he does drama he never holds back. With films like Schindler’s List and Lincoln, he not only acknowledges the moral complexity of real life circumstances, he embraces them. When he deals with tragic moments of history, Spielberg doesn’t back away from the ugliness of this moment. In this movie, we see a family gunned down trying to cross the Berlin Wall. But this has to be the least Spielbergian of his movies. It doesn’t even have a John Williams score, opting out for Thomas Newman. What we have is an morally complex espionage thriller of an ordinary man caught in the middle of the cold war.
Tom Hanks plays James B. Donovan an insurance salesman forced to defend soviet Spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance). When an American soldier is caught in enemy lines, Donovan then must cross the Berlin Wall to exchange Abel for the soldier. Through Donovan’s defense of Abel, Bridge of Spies shows how difficult it is to hold on to your principals in the time of war. Even though the country wants Abel hanged, Donovan goes in with the determination that he gets a fair trial. As a result, he faces opposition on all sides, from the bystanders to the judge. Even CIA tries to get him to break client confidentiality. At one point, someone opens on Donovan’s house. He still holds on to his principal and upholds the law. The exchange proves him right on his convictions.
Then it becomes an espionage thriller when Donovan travels the Soviet-ruled East Germany to attempt the exchange. It’s clear Donovan’s a stranger in a strange land, where a walk down the street could cost him his jacket. When an American civilian is captured as well, Donovan goes out of his way to have the kid rescued too. This leads to one hell of a thrilling climax.
I got to see this film when it was selected as the People’s Choice at the Toronto International Film Festival. It wasn’t even halfway into the film when the audience cheered. And for good reason. Not only was this one of the most compelling movies of the year, but it seems like two movies.
Adapted by Emma Donoghue from her own book; the film centers around Jack, a five year old boy (Jacob Tremblay) who’s imprisoned in a shack along with his mother (Brie Larson). Because he has never left the shack, Jack thinks the room is literally the whole world, developing a personal connection with the inanimate items. The first half focuses on their lives imprisoned in the shack, as the mother shields Jack from the man who imprisoned them. It’s heartbreaking to watch these scenes, made bearable by Jack’s wide eyed innocence. In one brutal scene, the mother’s forced to pull out her own rotted tooth. Sean Bridges is frightening as the creep who holds them hostage. Now is the moment when the mother makes a plan of escape.
I usually wouldn’t give away the second half, but the trailers already gave it away for me. The second half focuses on their escape to the outside world. The escape scene is one of the most suspenseful scenes in the film. The audience cheered when Jack reunites with his mother. But this comes with new challenges. Introduced to the outside world for the first time, Jack is both curious of the possibilities and so frightened he clings to his mother. Even when free, the mother still feels the phantom pains of imprisonment. Not helping is the media coverage. Larson brings out her character’s traumatic hollowness with brutal honest. As Larsons’ mother, Joan Allen conveys the suffering parents go through in this scenario and the helplessness they feel not sure how to help their child cope.
At age 5, Tremblay maintains a wide-eyed innocence that helps the child endure the unendurable.