"Bridge of Spies" takes a potentially dry screenplay and transcends it by way of artful, dominating mise en scéne. Based on true events situated during the height of the Cold War, this historically attentive drama is talky but never stuffy, director Steven Spielberg (2011's "War Horse") ensuring there is not a shred of narrative fat on its bones (if anything, he could have afforded to better explore his underused supporting players). By the filmmaker's side is go-to cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (2012's "Lincoln"), his meticulous camerawork alive with richly textured ambience. Reminding of a picture that would have been right at home in the 1960s, "Bridge of Spies" authentically captures a retro look and feel while dropping the viewer into an unsettled environment where Communist threats and nuclear fears were a part of the American consciousness. Where writers Ethan Coen & Joel Coen (2013's "Inside Llewyn Davis") and Matt Charman go wrong is in treating some of the most prominent participants in the story less as fully fleshed-out people and more as plot devices.
When Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) is arrested in 1957 under suspicion of being a Soviet spy, Brooklyn insurance claims lawyer James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) is enlisted with the losing battle of defending him in court. His choice to fight for someone seen by the public as the enemy is controversial—even his concerned young son Roger (Noah Schnapp) challenges, "You're not a Communist, so why are you defending one?"—but Donovan steadfastly believes in the right to a fair trial. Abel is ultimately convicted, but when American U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) is shot down and subsequently captured by the USSR, Donovan sees it as his chance to negotiate a swap between the warring nations. Adding an extra snarl to this plan is a second U.S. citizen detained in the Soviet sector whom Donovan wants added to the trade agreement, economics student Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers).
See Dustin Putman, TheFilmFile.com. for full review