|Tom Hanks in Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies.|
The opening sequence of Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, where, in 1957, the slippery British-born Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) manages to elude the FBI for the last time before he’s caught, is both excitingly and wittily filmed. Rylance, a much-lauded stage and recently TV star (he played Thomas Cromwell in the BBC adaptation of Wolf Hall) who hasn’t been tapped by the movies until now, turns the tension between Abel’s hyperawareness and his calm, almost languid air into a sort of music-hall routine with a whiff of melancholy. But as soon as Abel is sent to prison to await trial for espionage and James Donovan (Tom Hanks) is urged by his law firm to act as his defense attorney, the movie flattens out. How did Spielberg and the writers, Joel and Ethan Coen and Matt Charman, manage to turn the fascinating, twisty story of Abel – the Cold War spy who ended up being traded to the Soviets for both the captured pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) and Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers), an American economics student in Berlin arrested for suspicion of espionage – into a civics lesson? Somehow, instead of releasing the storytelling master in Spielberg – the director who could make the three-hour Munich so gripping – Bridge of Spies brings out his earnest, big-studio-era, socio-sentimental side. Janusz Kaminski’s period cinematography is gorgeous and vivifying, but the movie behind it is as glazed as Always, his 1989 remake of A Guy Named Joe, with Richard Dreyfuss in the Spencer Tracy part. And this time around he’s got Tom Hanks, who plays Jim Donovan as if he were Tracy.