Bridge of Spies


In a Wizard of Id cartoon, that used to hang outside my chambers, a thrusting lawyer named Pettifogger demands a change of venue for the trial – he says his client cannot get a fair trial in this town.  The King glares at him and then announces that he will take the trial to another town – ‘but we are coming back here for the hanging.’  This is prejudice in a very pure sense – the case has been decided; the accused is guilty; the trial is a sham.  What you have therefore is a definitive case of prejudice in the sense of pre-judgment.

You see this in Bridge of Spies.  The Attorney played by Tom Hanks is representing a Russian spy – we know he is a spy – played by Mark Rylance.  (The spy was English born.)  The trial part takes about the first half of the film.  (I did not recognise Alan Alda as the senior partner.)  The second part deals with a prisoner swap in Berlin.  Across each is the story of the U2 Pilot Gary Powers.  It is directed by Spielberg and the Coen brothers were involved in the writing.  There is some dry black humour, but the bad guys are constant – the CIA.

This is a very American movie – Hollywood – with a mom and apple pie ending, but it is a bloody good film.  (We get the movies late up here.)  It is a great story.  It is told by masters of their craft.  And in the two leads, you have two actors from very different traditions, but two champions at the height of their powers.  There are moments of theatre involving these two great actors where you are on the edge of your seat as if you were watching a pas de deux or a duet.  They are as different in their acting styles as their characters are different in the flesh.  There is some serious male bonding that might have got both mawkish and unreal, but it got to me – just because of the star power.

Let me give some examples of the quality of the theatre.  We first see Hanks negotiating with a colleague.  I have worked with American attorneys and the good ones are as smooth as a baby’s bottom.  (The same goes for the Poms.)  Hanks is an American attorney.  A driver has lost control of a car and then run into five people.  Is that one accident or five?  (There is a cap on the cover for any one accident.)  It depends on how you look at it.  For the driver, there is one accident with five hurt.  For each of the five, there is one separate accident, making five in all.  What is the answer if the five had been in one vehicle?  Is this an example of Einstein’s theory of relativity?  So, we get to see Hanks in action, and the Socratic method.  And the same conundrum comes back in Berlin.  What is the difference between a one for one swap and a one for two?  This is great theatre.

The spy gets messages in a false coin.  Powers has a lethal spike he must used if captured in a false coin.

Hanks has a cracker of a speech before the U S Supreme Court telling them they must not give up their values for the cold war.  This was the Dark Age of McCarthy.  And when the spy asks his lawyer why he never asked if he was a spy he gets the standard answer.  The lawyer is not God.  He is just there to see that the accused has his rights observed and gets a fair hearing.  He doesn’t, but he lives.

This film is seriously entertaining, and it is hard to pay a movie a higher compliment.

And Amy Ryan is drop-dead gorgeous as the wife.  A sex symbol of a middle aged housewife in the 50’s.  You get a box of Jaffas if you can get more Freudian than that.

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