Steven Spielberg is a master storyteller. Whether he’s filming giant dinosaurs, creating iconic characters or depicting a particular moment in history, the guy rarely makes a major mistake. So it should come as no surprise that his latest film, Bridge of Spies, is pretty great, but what’s especially surprising is just how great it is. A true story about the Cold War that carries themes that still feel particularly relevant today, the film manages to grab your attention from the get-go and carry you through its long runtime. In the hands of a less capable director, this period piece could have felt like a dry history lesson. But you care about the story in the film because it genuinely feels like Spielberg is excited to tell it.

In 1957, the FBI arrest Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) under the suspicion of being a Soviet spy. Because they want people to know that Abel is receiving a fair trial, they assign him the defense of James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks), an insurance lawyer. Donovan is initially reluctant to take on the case, realizing that most of America will probably hate him for defending a Soviet spy. But he decides that even a potential spy deserves a fair defense, so he gives the case everything he’s got. But things take a turn when an American soldier (Austin Stowell) is captured and detained by the Soviets. Because of his commitment to Abel, the US government tasks Donovan with traveling to East Berlin to initiate a trade of the two prisoners.

This is the fourth collaboration that Spielberg and Hanks have done together and while they may be getting older, they’re still managing to deliver high caliber work. Hanks isn’t reaching the dramatic heights that he was able to achieve with 2013’s Captain Phillips, but he’s perfectly cast in the role. The real standout in the cast is Mark Rylance who effortlessly gives one of the most understated and powerful performances of the year. It’s no surprise that the highlights of the film are the scenes between Hanks and Rylance, so it’s too bad that the majority of their scenes only occupy the first half of the film. The film doesn’t necessarily drop off in quality when Donovan travels to East Berlin, but there’s something about the earlier scenes in the film that I found much more engaging.

With a script that was co-written by the Coen Brothers, it’s no surprise that the film features some great dialogue exchanges and character moments. Along with co-screenwriter Matt Charman, the Coen Brothers also manage to weave in universal themes that feel particularly timely in the 21st century. The cinematography from Janusz Kaminski is unsurprisingly great and the score by Thomas Newman (stepping in for frequent Spielberg collaborator, John Williams) sounds very nice and is never overused. With a runtime that exceeds two hours, the film may feel a little long, but it builds to such a moving ending that’s worth the wait. Even with a dream team in front of an behind the camera, it’s Spielberg himself that makes Bridge of Spies such a great motion picture. The guy sure does know how to make history interesting.

Bridge of Spies receives 3.5/4

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