Reel Reflections: Bridge of Spies

Reel Reflections: Bridge of Spies

Where Do You Stand?

By E. P. Whinters

BridgeOfSpiesWhen I saw the trailer for Bridge of Spies (named for the bridge in Germany that was used to exchange hostage spies of one country with hostage spies of another) in the fall of 2015, I’ll admit it didn’t capture my interest. I knew it had something to do with the Cold War (which means Russia was somehow involved), I knew that it was based on a true story (so many movies seem to be these days), knew that the great Tom Hanks was in it and that he did something “lawyerly” (the trailer mentioned he was an insurance lawyer), that there was something about spies (the title gave that away) and that it was set in the 1950s. Doesn’t sound like a movie I’d get excited about, but, I could never have been more wrong.

The movie is currently playing in Canyon Meadows Cinemas in Calgary, and I decided to check it out this last week. In this endeavour to see as many movies up for Academy Awards as possible before the February 28th, I knew this was one I should see, even if it didn’t appeal to me.

First, let it be said the viewer doesn’t need to be an expert on the Cold War to follow this film; Stephen Spielberg (yes, he is the director) does a great job of assuming his viewer doesn’t know much about the Cold War and easily fills in the gaps with what you need to know, for as much as this movie is about the Cold War, it isn’t about the Cold War. And it’s not a Rah-Rah-America movie either, though it makes sense to expect that, too. This is not another war movie with Tom Hanks playing another Captain Miller in Saving Private Ryan, though people are saved. And, it kept me intrigued until the end credits.

From the beginning where the viewer can’t help but generate a plethora of questions with the 27 minute non-dialogue/non-score start to the film, an elderly man painting a self-portrait from a mirrored reflection, to the end and the final pieces of information on where the four main characters went and what they did after the time the movie covers. If anything, a comparison to Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird can be made, for, like that classic, this is about standing for what you believe to be right, for treating everyone with equality … “Standing Man” in the story. Someone who is not remarkable, but makes a difference in many lives because he stands for what he believes is right. There is a court-room scene, very similar to To Kill A Mockingbird where each lawyer makes a heartfelt plea for his client, prodding the consciousness of the judge, court and viewer, on what is most important at a moment like this. Apparently, the words in the film are the same words the actual lawyer used that day.

Without giving details of the movie away, Spielberg weaves a story set beautifully and with an authentic feel in the 1950s but is relevant as much today as then, when we also are fearful of people we don’t know and how we are to treat these people that scare us. Set in a time when fear ruled people like you and me, the viewer is drawn into a real story about real people who took a risk for what they believed to be right. Bridge of Spies is up for best picture, for screen play by the Cohn brothers (there are genuine comic moments that will bring a smile or chuckle) and for Best Supporting Actor for the little man who plays the Russian Spy. Not all of “us” are the heroes, not all of “them” are evil, barriers are built for reasons we think are for protection. What we see might not always be as it seems. I read someone thought that the movie went too long, but if it had stopped where this person thought it should, an incredible scene of taking the “same elements” from throughout the film and playing them against each other to bring out two very powerful messages would not be there.

It is not an action-packed movie, but it is one that holds the viewer’s interest. You might learn a bit about that time in history, but you learn more about the character of man, of what we do when we are put to the test. Some use their power, some propagate fear, some run, some save their own hide, and some … some stand firm in the face of rejection, of violence, with integrity and strength.

I left the movie reflecting on my behavior in the face of fear, when I’m scared for future consequences, how do I respond to them? (“Aren’t you scared?” Jim asks his client. “Would it help?” the little man responds.) What do I think in my heart? It is as much what you say to others as what you say to yourself, for it is these words that you speak to your heart are the ones that really speak to true character. And you will know whether you are a ‘standing man’ or not. I may have walked into the film with not much enthusiasm, but I walked out, profoundly affected. I don’t know if this movie will win any awards, but it is certainly worthy of them.

Academy Award Nominations for:

Best Motion Picture of the Year

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role – Mark Rylance

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen – Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score 0 – Thomas Newman

Best Achievement in Production Design

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing