The Cold War will resonate with audiences of a certain age, remember “Duck and Cover”, a useful but ultimately pointless method of surviving a nearby nuclear detonation.
Nuclear mutually assured destruction or ironically “MAD” is not just a word, the US and USSR seriously believed this to be a realistic battle-plan option.
If during your school-days, instead of earthquake drills you practised avoiding the end of the world, it may well have stuck in your mind. If you later grow into a famous film director, you may have the opportunity to articulate this early fear. It’s clear that director Stephen Spielberg has not forgotten his formative years.
1957, Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance) is a very patient, quiet, almost monosyllabic man who likes to paint by the river in the United States. Not very remarkable but he also happens to be a Russian KGB Spy at the very height of the Cold War. Representing the antithesis of James Bond, he ends up being arrested in his Y-fronts in his very modest apartment.
The US is keen to provide at least the pretence of an impartial trial. Who better to defend him than all American insurance lawyer James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks). What the authorities failed to factor in, is that Donovan is his own man. Someone who believes rules cannot easily be set aside as expediency dictates.
This is particularly unfortunate in the era of “Reds under the Beds” 1950’s America. Donovan becomes hated by the American public, with him and his family suffering the consequences of adverse public opinion.
Whilst hunting for “Commies” at home, the US is of course undertaking similar tactics abroad, including the newly devised U2 spy plane. When one eventually goes missing, together with it’s pilot Gary Powers, the opportunity for prisoner bartering is broached.
As can be imagined neither country will admit to anything and anyone conducting such negotiations would have plausible deniability at all times. If the trade fails or anything untoward occurs, they are on their own. The fact the trade must be completed in East Berlin behind the wall, adds further real risk to the equation.
Are there souls brave enough to take such a risk for their country? – step forward aforementioned Insurance lawyer Donovan, again seemingly solely motivated by his desire to see things done right as he ventures into the unknown.
As you would expect, Hanks brings his usual decent every-man persona to the screen, exhibiting integrity and an innate desire to ensure the constitution and rule of law are not merely written down but also followed.
Spielberg dials back any flashy directorial techniques but allows Hanks and Rylance scenes with time to breathe and actually act. A rarity in many films with fast edits and “ADD” proof story-lines. Rylance is quite a revelation, with limited lines he still makes a massive impact, his face portraying every ounce of sadness and resignation assigned to the character.
This is old fashioned cinema but brought up to date with underlying themes arguably more important than ever. This is the Cold war, undoubtedly an anathema to younger viewers but substitute the snowy German streets for middle eastern conflicts and the abuses brought about when the American rule law is “enhanced”, is an obvious comparison.
“Lincoln” whilst informative, intelligent and thoughtful was also extremely boring, fortunately Spielberg has remembered why people go to the cinema. This film is always watchable and whilst a little slower than most modern films, retains a slow burn, with a tense and rewarding final reel.
The excellent period setting is worth noting, the final scenes were also filmed on location, adding authenticity to the story.
Spielberg and Hanks back doing what they do best, telling a “true life” story that audiences can enjoy yet still be informed and entertained.
Recommended cold war thriller, with the bonus of high class acting and a peek at recent modern history