Spies “R” Us
In years to come, inspired by the current capitalisation of the education system, wealth starved history (now wholly sponsored, filtered and presented by movie companies) students are going to look back and think Tom Hanks had a mighty hard time in life. After losing his dear friend the basket ball and escaping that rather lonely desert island, he had his ship hijacked, was kidnapped, and then had to go to communist East Berlin to defend the morale soul of the facade that is Law in the USA. When all he wanted to do was sell insurance. Where oh where is our #HanksAid campaign?
I’m pretty sure the talented Mr Hanks is a really decent guy, politically aware and always does consistently high standards of work throughout, including his turn as James B. Donovan in the just released ‘The Bridge Of Spies’ (2015) directed by none other than up and coming director Stephen Spielberg, who really is rather good at putting the spiel into his movie fare. And there in lies a problem with such subject matters in movies.
The Bridge of Spies deals with an historically fascinating (idiotic, though is there any other kind) time of Man’s bumbling around the planet looking for and creating where there are none, problems. After the defeat of the horrific Nazis in WWII, their ultimate downfall instigated predominately by the hands and deaths of millions of Russian people, the American government decided in it’s consistent paranoia that now with the old common global enemy being gone, they needed a new one. How else was the billions of $’s made in weaponry during the global wars to be maintained? The industrial military complex will be nourished by any means necessary.
So Russia (or as it was then USSR, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) became the new bad kid on the Soviet Bloc, and the American propaganda machine went into overdrive.
The thing about propaganda is that it’s not restricted to any particular time period. It is well known that the Nazis were pretty good at it, as was Stalin, but the Americans took all that expertise and turned it into an award winning (Oscar etc) art form. Ultimately it was the birth of advertising, and it works so well because we openly embrace it into our hearts, soul, minds and pockets. It’s still propaganda though and is being pumped into your world and movie screens 24/7 because you’re buying it.
James B. Donovan was the ‘All American’ man. Bronx born of Irish descent, Catholic schooled, ex Navy, qualified as a lawyer, and ended up as an assistant at the Nuremberg trials before moving into the insurance law, then bounced onto defending a captured Russian spy at the request of the government of the USA, or indeed the CIA. He is a truly fascinating human being indeed.
Donovan is played with typical professionalism by Hanks as he has to go face to face with the American public and the jingoistic courts of the land defending a recently captured spy Rudolf Abel (the fantastic Mark Rylance). Thanks to the mainstream media, the slightly built unimposing figure of Rudolf is now the leviathan communist monster that everyone has been brainwashed into thinking lives under their beds. Donovan to his credit and core values sees a man maintaining loyalty to his country, and wants to uphold his own loyalty to the finer aspects of his own lands by maintaining the true standards in law. And after all, what is the genuine difference between a Russian spy and an American one, particularly in the form of Francis Gary Powers, a CIA agent who has just been shot down in his U2 spy plane and captured by the Russians.
The USA gung-ho cowboys of law wanted Rudolf to be given the death sentence, they wanted to spill commie blood, thankfully the balance, wisdom and foresight of Donovan steered another rational outcome. But now through the press he is also deemed a monster by association.
This whole time period was know as the Cold Wars being that there was no overt war going on. It probably should have been called the Idiotic Nervous Drunk Teenager Wars being that all ‘sides’ behaved like immature brats. This is brought to much comedic effect in the movie with wonderfully stupid acts where nobody wants to admit that any subterfuge is going on, basically keeping up appearances. The Coen brothers were brought into touch up the script written by Matt Charman, which does add flare in a gloomy world, but also solidifies the movie as the equivalent of a war time Pathé propaganda show reel, just with a vastly bigger budget.
Donovan is pretty much left to his own devices as nobody wants to admit that spies exist, and therefore how could any dialogue happen if they aren’t real. A truly juvenile world indeed.
Cycling into this mess comes student Frederic L. Pryor (Will Rogers) who is captured by the authorities in East Berlin in the belief he is a spy. Once he enters Donovan’s radar in typical bargain seeking American style he aims for a BOGOF (buy one get one free) spy swapping deal with the Russians and the East Germans. Let the political farce commence.
The movie looks really great, too great. With such gravatus of a story at it’s core, everything else is a distraction. Everyone is on form acting wise (particularly Rylance), and it is a thoroughly entertaining movie, again at a disservice to the actual story which it is ‘inspired’ by. To it’s credit there’s not the usual absolute bias in the presentation of all things Russian, but the clichés are still there.
It’s an enjoyable trip to the cinema, but no more, and will hopefully inspire folk to go and read up on the truly amazing man that was James B. Donovan.
Bridge of Spies is out now.