Spielberg’s ‘Bridge of Spies’ takes viewers back in time

Bryce Berman, Staff Reporter

Over 30 college students from across the country dialed into the Walt Disney Company’s conference call line last Thursday. They were eager to have a casual conversation with one of the most famous directors in the world, Steven Spielberg, about his newest movie, “Bridge of Spies.”

The film takes place during the height of the Cold War, when fears of the Soviet Union and nuclear war were at an all-time high. It focuses on the true story of American lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks) who is asked to represent accused Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) in court and negotiate the exchange between Abel and U.S pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell), who was captured and held prisoner in the Soviet Union.

Tom Hanks’ performance as James Donovan is impeccable. The audience may forget they’re watching a movie and instead feel like they are watching history unfold in front of their eyes. From the changing color palette of the cinematography to the flash bulb photography and great acting, the film is very well done. Spielberg admits he is “blessed” to work with actors like Hanks.

“When Tom knows a character, you know, he becomes that person the same way Daniel Day-Lewis became Abraham Lincoln,” Spielberg said.

It was Spielberg’s quest to make the film as accurate as possible, so much so that Francis Powers, founder of the Cold War Museum in Warrenton, Virginia and son of the Francis Gary Powers in the film, played a large role in the making of the movie. The speech to the Supreme Court that Donovan gives in the movie is word-for-word what Donovan actually said. Hanks’ character also catches a cold when conducting negotiations in East Germany, which actually did happen to Donovan. Though a seemingly small detail, it shows just how devoted Spielberg and his crew were to maintaining historical accuracy.

When asked about how he was able to so accurately recreate the environment and essence of the Cold War, Spielberg credited production designer Adam Stockhausen.

“He presented me with a tremendous amount of research just because he wanted to capture the authenticity of what it was like both living in America during that very paranoid time and what it was like existing in East Germany,” Spielberg said.

Though Cold War tensions were evidently high and the cinematography depicts this sense of darkness, the film is not without some humor, as the script was written by Matt Charman and the Coen brothers — screenwriters notorious for their clever, dark humor. 

Some basic background knowledge on the Cold War may be useful in understanding the film, but it is still very engaging thanks to its star-studded cast, interesting settings and unpredictable plot. It is a new, refreshing taste on the Cold War from a dimension often unseen. Instead of depicting the supposed Soviet spy as an enemy, he is seen as a kind, quiet man who actually becomes quite close to Donovan, his American lawyer. “Bridge of Spies” will definitely be making rounds at this year’s Oscars.