Bridge of Spies ★★★★½

Heroes and villains, in the geo-political arena, are usually dependent on your perspective within that arena to make them so. What makes Bridge of Spies such a fascinating film is that both of the main characters -- Donovan and Abel -- are heroic and villainous in their own ways. Abel is a Soviet spy captured in America and is immediately vilified by Americans for his actions. But he is also owed due process under the Constitution. Donovan is basically forced to take the case to make it appear as if due process is being followed and he just so happens to take his job seriously. He builds a legitimate case for Abel under the law despite the fact that the deck is stacked against him from the very beginning.

Spielberg is an American filmmaker and he has a particular interest in examining classic American ideals under pressure. Many people have cited Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) but the movie I kept thinking of in the midst of this was Oliver Stone's JFK (1991). The thankless task of trying to do something to make sense of a world that everyone suddenly believes is too complicated and complex for things like truth or justice, where the basic humans values of compassion and understanding are circumvented regularly for the abstract "greater good." Is it idealized? Perhaps. But Spielberg is interested in reminding us of "the better angels of our nature" and to use history to remind us that the basic things are not necessarily simple and easy -- they can be costly, especially when no one else around you seems to value them at all.

M.D. liked this review