Many of you will realise that it’s taken me a while to get round to watching this. The truth was I wasn’t actually sure I’d enjoy it. Joel and Ethan Coen mixed with Spielberg should be fantastic but something held me back, I think probably the subject matter.
Anyway, I’m absolutely thrilled to say I was totally wrong to neglect the film. What a fantastically written and directed piece of work. The Coen Brothers-Spielberg mix, CoBerg or Spielen, does not disappoint, I should also mention Matt Charman (mostly TV work previously) who worked with the Coen’s on the script.
It’s the cold war and James B. Donovan, more than ably played by Tom hanks, is asked by his boss Thomas Watters Jr., played by Alan Alda (MASH) to defend a certain Rudolf Abel, supremely played by Mark Rylance, one of the greatest stage actors around, who is accused of being a Soviet spy.
No-one believes Abel isn’t a spy, the request is more a token one. Donovan is expected to simply show he’s putting up a defence, not win, and he has no-chance as everything, and everyone, is against him.
What Donovan does manage to do is convince the judge to not put Abel to death on the grounds that, at some point in the future, one of their own spies may be taken and he’d be useful to have. This, of course, is exactly what happens and the US government, not wanting to ‘get their hands dirty’ ask Donovan to make the exchange on their behalf.
Most of you will know what you get with a cold war Spielberg film, we’ve seen them before and he’s supremely good at them. However, what we get when the Coen’s are involved is a lovely little touch of humour and a whole lot of heart. I was surprised, but by no means upset, to find myself laughing at various parts throughout the movie, it’s not a comedy – don’t get me wrong, but there are nice little touches that just lift it on occasion to stop it getting too heavy.
These touches all come from Mark Rylance who is just absolutely sublime and he takes every scene he is in. His subtlety, his switch from one mood to the next and the way he portrays Rudolf Abel is simply stunning. He doesn’t have lots of dialogue but what you remember are his words, three simple ones mostly: “would it help?”. Said to Donovan on a number of occasions when Donovan says something like “you don’t seem worried?”. I can’t praise the performance enough. If he doesn’t win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor it will be a travesty.
Spielberg directs with aplomb as per usual. Hanks is his usual fabulous self and the rest of the cast all perform brilliantly. If I had to think of one gripe it would be that the scenes in Germany, we get to see them building the wall between East and West, don’t feel so real or as gritty as perhaps we’re used to with Spielberg’s movies. This is probably due to the overall mood of the movie which isn’t going for the realism of, say, Schindler’s List. It’s a minor gripe though in what is otherwise a fantastic movie.