Bridge of Spies – Film Review

Berlin, back when there were two of them.  Glienicker Brücke, back when it was the edge of world and trying to take a closer look at the alien place on the other bank of the Spree invited a pot shot from Potsdam for your troubles.

Berlin, before you could drive the length of Unter den Linden, and the crosses added to Potsdamer Platz graveyard represented one more East German who died for the crime of trying to cross the square to the West.  Nowadays, the trains from unified Berlin’s astonishing new Hauptbahnhof offer a view that those dreams were made of, and it costs a couple of euro for the pleasure.

Consequently it seems just a bit crass to shoe-horn in a gratuitous scene where commuters in Cold War West Berlin casually view a family being machine-gunned down as they attempt to climb the wall in broad daylight, in full view of heartless border guards.  Thus, the tone is set for Bridge of Spies.

It’s a bit like a May Day arms parade in Red Square.  All the big guns are out.  Spielberg, Hanks, Newman with the conductor’s baton.  However, shock and awe it isn’t.

Tom Hanks, looking uncannily like his persona in the Carly Rae Jepson video, overcoats his way through upmarket New York and down market Berlin, where  his frankly ludicrous digs are rather less well-appointed than the Stasi jail to which one of his co-stars is incarcerated.

The plot loosely follows the shooting down and subsequent release through prisoner exchange of Gary Powers, the spy plane pilot whose U2 spy plane still hasn’t found what it’s looking for when it’s hit by a Russian surface to air missile.  Yes, history does have a habit of repeating itself in the most gruesome ways.

Gruesome too is the Berlin Wall being thrown up as the action, such as it is, that akes place. “A little wrinkle,” says the cardboard cut-out CIA agent.  It’s frankly a bit DIY.  More breeze block than Soviet Block, but that doesn’t stop a preposterous escape attempt on bicycles which, unlike the butchered family on Potsdamer Platz, attracts little more than a slap on the wrists from the East German soldiers so stereotypical they may as well be extras from Carry on Communism.

So, what’s to like?  Well, this is basically a courtroom drama, although it’s hardly Twelve Angry Men.  There’s hardly even one angry man.  Admittedly, a possible KGB Apparatchik gets excited at one point and startles a house maid into dropping a cup.  She had a line, but I missed her in the credits.  She was probably called Rosa Kleb.  Thing is though, there are some good lines, most of them delivered by Hanks, and most of them quite sublime justifications of the American constitution – not that a tug or two at the heart-strings of the Oscars panel is ever a bad thing.

Should you see it?  Of course you should – but only once it’s on Film 4 – or available on blu-ray at a dead-letter drop near you.

Cert 12, Directed by Steven Spielberg, UK release 27 November, 2015.


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