Top Notch Casting Moves a Fluff-Less Script

When Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg team up it's a sweet reminder that film excellence still exists in a rare vortex where casting, script, and direction triangulates into a perfect target.

The truth-inspired story set during the height of the Cold War is nothing unusual, and it has been repeatedly done on film. But this story comes with a unique twist, and it is masterfully played across the screen like a Bobby Fischer chess game. Tom Hanks plays James Donovan an attorney, who through a chain of exceptional events, becomes the point man/negotiator of an intricate prisoner exchange between the Soviet Union and the United States.The stakes are high, and the mood between the two nations is one of severe distrust. 

The film contained a fluff-less script that had a story to tell and stuck to it with lean acting, lean dialogue, and enough suspense to land it smack dab in the thriller category. Hanks plays the American attorney with a precise moral compass encased in nerves of steel as he figures out how to maneuver on a giant political stage. Hanks was joined by the stellar English talent of Mark Rylance (Wolf Hall) playing Russian spy, Rudolph Abel. Rylance eased through his part playing Abel as a man in full comprehension that his number is up but is unfazed by the inevitable. Rylance holds each scene in the palm of his hand riveting you to his character and stealing scenes from Hanks, which is no easy feat.

The remaining cast members converged like a perfect storm of Hollywood talent. Amy Ryan (Birdman) played Jim Donovan's wise and long-suffering spouse, German actor Sebastian Koch (Unknown), Alan Alda (Mash), and Austin Stowell (Whiplash).

The directorial hand had the Spielberg "Midas" touch all over it, with all the elements that make for an engaging spy thriller; intrigue, suspense, and danger. The film held its own respectably at the box office opening third behind the Martian (see my review) with $15M in sales. Bridge of Spies was no 'Marvel' box office behemoth, but it is definitely the type of fodder that the motion picture award committee's love to recognize. I expect to see nominations for Tom Hanks as Best Actor and doubtless for Mark Rylance as Best Supporting Actor. 

Bridge of Spies reminds us about one of the most serious points in our nation's history - the Cold War years between 1947 until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. It wasn't that long ago. And, given the present course of events in Russia - it is a sobering reminder that international relations often play out across a delicate stage of political posturing and bait n' switch mentalities, and that history does quite often repeat itself. 


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