First Hit: The difference between Spielberg films and other director films is always attention detail through craftsmanship – this film excels in every way.
When a film supplies and fulfills details around my childhood memories and does it with great storytelling, I’m hooked.
I remember the cold war. We use to practice diving under our desks and covering our necks with our hands in case “The Bomb” went off. We were told, we’d see the flashing light of the bomb in LA (I grew up in Southern California) and when we did see the flash we were to "drop, duck and cover".
The way Spielberg crafts the era and the story of three men, Rudolf Able (Mark Rylance) accused Russian spy, high altitude U2 surveillance pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) and lawyer turned negotiator James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) was sublime.
The director takes his time, gives the audience relevant information, and then crafts a story that is interesting and fully engaging. Every scene is crafted to share an emotion or add to the audience’s understanding of story. The CIA agent following Able when the camera moves around the car to introduce the suspicion – perfect.
The story is about how an insurance lawyer, Donovan, is hired by the US Government to first defend Able in the US Court of law and then he’s recruited to negotiate a prisoner swap. The swap was for Powers who was a U2 pilot that was shot down over Russia. Because we were in the midst of the cold war with Russia neither government would acknowledge that they were talking with each other.
The feel of East Berlin, where the swap happened, was perfectly dreary. The relevant side story was that Donovan wanted an additional person included in the trade, Fredrick Pryor (Will Rogers). In this side story Pryor, a student, had gotten caught on the wrong side of the wall and was being used by the East Germans to make a name for their government. It also showed the strength of conviction of Donovan to get what he wanted, to be a humanitarian and how good he was at negotiating.
My favorite line spoken a few times in the film was: “Would it help?”
Hanks was superb. He’ll probably be nominated for an award during award season. I would also say that Rylance was equally superb in his supporting role. He’s perfect and his ability to portray a subdued man on a mission who can be trusted is brilliant. Stowell was good as the U2 pilot. Matt Charman, Ethan and Joel Coen wrote a compelling, interesting engaging story, but it was Spielberg’s direction through clear vision that makes this film absolutely great.
Overall: This is a perfect slice of history presented in a way that is simply great storytelling.