xXx: Return of Xander Cage
The last forty minutes of the movie do come together in a pretty diverting way.
Steven Spielberg's “Bridge of Spies” opens with a shot of a man looking in a mirror as he paints a nearly-complete self-portrait. The man is shot from behind. We are not really seeing “him.” We are looking at two reflections, one in glass and one in watercolors. The truth is in the middle. This duality of perception vs. reality and, eventually, the concept of those three triangular points of interest (reflection, man, painting)—which look similar but aren’t quite—will resurface in “Bridge of Spies,” a daring, studied, mannered true story that is at once remarkably genuine and deeply cinematic at the same time. It’s one of the best films of the year.
As he has done at least a dozen times before, Spielberg captures the arc of a man who is caught up in something bigger than himself and somehow rises to the occasion. The “Man Under Pressure” this time is Jim Donovan (Tom Hanks), an insurance lawyer called into duty by his government when the aforementioned painter, a man named Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance), is captured for the crime of espionage against the United States on behalf of the USSR. It is 1957, and the Cold War is a constant concern. Adults still discuss the Rosenbergs around the dinner table while Jim’s children learn about how easily they’ll survive nuclear fallout if they just duck and cover or fill their bathtubs with drinking water. Donovan is asked to serve as Abel’s defense attorney by his boss (Alan Alda), who just wants Donovan to be a warm body—someone to sit next to the traitor to make sure the judicial process runs appropriately.
One gets the impression—ably assisted by Hanks’ steely-eyed determination, which recalls the movie icons of cinema's golden age—that Donovan has never just been a cog in a machine. And so he actually tries to mount a defense for Abel, arguing that the seizure of evidence was unconstitutional and making the case that the death penalty would be a politically bad move, even if the public desperately wants to see Abel hanged. Donovan argues that Abel not only represents valuable political currency, which could come in handy if the US ever needs to negotiate with the Russians, but also that Abel should be treated as we would want any American POW to treated in turn. If you think about it, Abel was just doing a job, right? He’s not a traitor to his country. Isn’t it the same job our men are doing around the world? Does that deserve the death penalty? What message would that send regarding the treatment of our captured men around the world?
Of course, Donovan is right, and the international picture gets more complicated when a pilot named Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) is captured by the Russians. Despite having no real experience in espionage—which is good because he can’t be seen as a spy, or even a representative of the U.S. Government—Donovan is sent in to mediate the exchange. Once again, Donovan has difficulty doing the bare minimum. In the tradition of the typical Spielberg protagonist, Donovan is a man who doesn’t only do what’s asked of him, he does more. In Spielberg’s vision of the world, this is essential to the image of not only great men, but also to the idea behind the United States—in theory, our leaders don’t simply do what’s necessary, they do what others tell them is impossible. Spielberg’s historical epics have always tended to this examination of overreaching greatness, from Oskar Schindler to Abraham Lincoln.