RELEASED 2015 RUNTIME 141 MIN LANGUAGE ENGLISH DIRECTION STEVEN SPIELBERG SCREENPLAY MATT CHARMAN, JOEL COEN, ETHAN COEN STARRING TOM HANKS, MARK RYLANCE, SCOTT SHEPHERD, AMY RYAN, SEBASTIAN KOCH, ALAN ALDA, AUSTIN STOWELL MUSIC THOMAS NEWMAN
Steven Spielberg again delivers a solid period piece drama starring his actor of choice, Tom Hanks, as James B. Donovan, who in the late 1950’s organized an exchange between the Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel, who got caught in Brooklyn, NY, a US pilot Francis Gary Powers, who got shot down over Russia during a spy overflight and Doug Forrester, an American student in Berlin who got arrested by East German police for stupid reasons. The exchange took place at the Berlin border between East and West Germany (also known as the German Democratic Republic and the Republic of Germany for all you historic nuts out there).
It’s an amazing story and for someone who is fascinated by everything Cold War, it really captivated me. I just love that era (not literally but historically) and seeing in the movie how the wall was being constructed by the Soviets, being the Berlin fanatic I am, made me swallow not just once.
A big portion of the movie takes place at location in Berlin and feels very real with German actors all around playing German characters, something too many Hollywood productions still get wrong to this day (yes, I’m looking at you Valkyrie and you Exodus). At this point I must thank Steven Spielberg for always putting in the extra effort in his movies to recruit international talent and filming on location.
Tom Hanks is being Tom Hanks. He is just great as always. This man has yet to have a bad performance in front of camera. But the other cast is pretty good as well, especially Mark Rylance as Rudolf Abel. His performance as a Soviet spy is very subdued, but fits the persona of a man who probably has made it a routine to keep secrets from basically all people around him. The chemistry between him and Tom Hanks is really good and sprinkles in some funny scenes here and there to shake up the mood. Overall the time of the movie is more lighthearted than it initially thought it would be, but Spielberg’s direction is so masterful that it doesn’t feel out of place at all.
The screenplay is also really tight, co-written by Matt Charmann and the Coen Brothers. There is not a single dull moment. Every scene has a purpose and keeps you interested. I also didn’t mind that approx. the first half if the movie is not about the exchange itself, but about James B. Donovan defending Alfred Abel in front of Supreme Court that eventually leads up to the exchange stuff. It is crucial to the overall story + gives some great background to the US of the 1950’s and their mindset. It’s funny on the one hand, but totally absurd on the other.
But that’s where the strong message of the movie kicks in and by the end highlights that the Cold War has nothing to do with humanity, but with absurd politics to manipulate people into superficial thinking over the other and judging them on behalf of that. I’m not trying to be political here, but sometimes to me it seems like the remnants of the Cold War are still spooking inside our heads and create these stupid assumptions about other nations. The paranoia between the western and the eastern world undeniably still exists in media today to an extend and I just feel like it’s time to let it go.
P.S.: Fun trivia: Did you know that this is only the 2nd film by Steven Spielberg that does NOT feature John Williams as the musical composer? The other one is The Color Purple (1985).