The first movie I ever saw Tom Hanks in was “Big,” (my entire theater was in stitches) and I still have a series of images of him from that movie that make me laugh. Tom, dressed in a pastel tux at a company party, nibbling dubiously at a miniature ear of corn. Tom standing up in the back of a limo. And of course, Tom performing “Chopsticks” with his boss in FAO Schwarz. After that, even when he was playing adults who weren’t actually twelve-year-old boys, he always seemed to be the equivalent of the cool uncle, the only one in the family who isn’t married and settled, and who does stuff like eat Cocoa Pops for dinner and stay up until midnight. Of course, eventually, Tom took on more and more serious roles, and now, he is pretty awesome at playing Tom Hanks, which is good news for his latest film, the Cold War-era drama, Spielberg-directed “Bridge of Spies.”
The movie opens, to show it wants to Be Taken Seriously, with a close-up of a someone’s pensive face. Then on second thought, it’s actually an image in a painting, or perhaps a reflection, and the line between what people think/expect and what actually is occurring is something explored in the film. The first ten or so minutes have no dialogue, just shots of men in suits scuttling around a train station, and then a group of FBI agents bursts in on an elderly man (Mark Rylance) and start searching his home. Convinced he’s a Soviet spy (which he is), they arrest him, but this being the US, decide to put him on trial, although it’s clear that that’s just a formality. Enter Jim Donovan, a Brooklyn lawyer (Tom Hanks), who is charged by his boss (Alan Alda) to represent Mark in court. Given the time period, pretty much everyone sees Mark as a traitor who deserves the death penalty, and Jim’s spouse isn’t too thrilled about anonymous threats to their safety (though unlike Russell Crowe’s wife in “The Insider,” she does not go so far as to pack up the kids and leave). The judge himself is also convinced ahead of time, and we can tell he’s not a good guy because when Tom visits him at home, he makes him hold his half-full drink glass as if Tom’s his own personal butler. So it looks to be an uphill battle.
Meanwhile the CIA has recruited a group of fresh-faced guys to fly a top secret spy mission, and eventually, one gets captured by the enemy. Thus the stage is set for Tom to not only successfully argue that his client does not deserve the death penalty, but also to engineer a swap of “spies.” This means going to East Berlin, at the time the wall is going up, which is portrayed as a monochromatic kind of place where it’s always freezing or snowing. It turns out that Tom’s job is not as simple as he originally thought.
This movie is two and a half hours long, and I admit, although I’m glad I saw it, there were a few times where it felt much longer. It is, as you’d expect, very light on humor, even the black sort, and Tom’s character is straightforward: he’s going to do the right thing no matter who he alienates, and there’s not a huge moral struggle going on beneath that steely veneer. (His one quirk is how he takes his coffee, kind of like Tom Cruise’s YooHoo passion in “A Few Good Men.”) Mark also gives an impressive performance. Overall, this is the kind of movie that you’re more glad to have seen than be seeing it in the first place, though it certainly should be remembered come Oscar-nomination time.