Bridging Cold War History

Opening Bridge of Spies is a mute chase sequence. Agents hunt for a Red sympathizer. They weave between cars and peer around corner stores. Their long jackets flail in the breeze. Thomas Newman’s atmosphere-inciting score hums behind the action. Cities come alive, but no one speaks. The rush of well charged adrenaline which breaks the sequence is substantial. Spielberg’s taste for amplifying history – increasingly common within his millennium output – swells to its peak here.

A political tug-of-war between super powers sits within Bridge of Spies’ Cold War tensions, creating a captivating scenario to best surround the story with a mix-in tale of American justice and international politics. Patriotism embodied by the post-war ’50s and ’60s (led by heightened propaganda) is a fixture. Bridge of Spies connects to the circumstances itself, casting Tom Hanks to pursue this narrative of an unorthodox international rescue.

Patriotism embodied by the post-war ’50s and ’60s, led on by heightened propaganda, is a fixture.

Mark Rylance is superlative as the Russian spy Hanks is out to free, setting the demeanor of a man kowtowed by his government. Rudolf Abel is given a tremendous screen adaptation by Rylance, soft-spoken and unusual when in comparison to typical Hollywood spies. Spielberg’s film turns into a two-parter, one half dictated with Abel’s unfair trial in American courts – more PR than justice – the other as Brooklyn insurance lawyer James Donovan (Hanks) verbally tussles with the distrusting Russians on their land.

While teetering toward the, “America saves everyone” slant so popular in mass market historical adaptations, Bridge of Spies projects a proper level of empathy. Abel’s actions are unclear – his level of espionage is not definitive. It allows character to form rather than treating him as a narrative element. Certainly, there’s an easiness in using Abel as a jumping point for Donovan’s actions as a civilian go-between for the government. Instead Bridge of Spies gives Rylance space to build a personality away from history’s glaring eye.

Interspersed are images of the era. Schools run videos barking about duck-and-cover routines, injecting fearsome paranoia. TV news rallies people to bust communism. Papers lay Donovan out as the villain for defending a Russian who had yet to be found guilty. (Media patterns are distressingly unchanged in their criminal bias.) The Berlin wall becomes a prominent fixture for Bridge of Spies along with the chaos and confusion of its construction.

Bridge of Spies has a sureness in these recreations, lending the piece authenticity, strengthening as it is gorgeous. Constant Spielberg cinematographer Janusz Kaminski eyes another stunner, and his flair for misty lights is suitable for the material. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Movie]

Bridge of Spies Blu-ray screen shot 14

Setting aside the distracting color grading for a moment, Bridge of Spies reproduces the film stock without fault. Grain is captured and resolved with an enormous, consistent bitrate. Images roll past the screen with total mastery of the codec. The detail they hold is sensational.

Close-ups are placed throughout the runtime, each displaying enormous fidelity. Kaminski’s fascination with blooming light sources – windows, candles, lamps – is of no consequence to fine detail. The same goes for environments which are often breathtaking, especially in Berlin where damage from the war remains.

Everything is assisted by intense contrast, and Bridge of Shadows is fond of deepened shadows to go against the hefty light sources. Closing moments on the bridge are phenomenal examples of image depth, backlit by car lights and a foreboding early morning sky. Interiors are capable of the same, keeping characters thickly shadowed to achieve maximum depth. It’s stunning on Blu.

And then there was color. Bridge of Spies proves to be attracted to blues and usually, only blues. Other hues are little more than a glimmer. Certain scenes are monochromatic in their blue tint, stuffy and unwilling to budge. Authenticity in storytelling feels run over by color grading which never assumes a natural posture. Some final scenes which lean yellow/orange are a relief. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Video]

Currently in the running for sound mixing Oscar, Bridge of Spies’ DTS-HD 7.1 track has plenty to do. Only one scene can be considered action, a spy plane incident with missiles and cracking cockpit glass. A light rumble knocks in the LFE during this scene without feeling overmixed. Balance proves perfect as the plane breaks up and debris begins falling in each channel.

What Bridge of Spies tends to do is work on ambiance. Opening shots split the stereos – in the left, a phone. The right? Noise from an open window. The soundfield stretch continues to create width in the fronts with a mixture of audio splitting off into the rears. Flash bulbs pop to envelop Donovan with a frenzied media. Rain pours down and thunder is placed precisely in specific channels. An air force base captures unseen take offs while riding on a subway is wonderfully noisy. None of the scenery is allowed to feel empty. [xrr rating=5/5 label=Audio]

Just shy of an hour in total, the four bonus features appear light, but by weaving in surviving players, actual history, and classy looks behind-the-scenes shots, these bonuses are great. The Case of the Cold War serves as the best example, involving Spielberg’s father who became the genesis of the film while divulging historical context.

Continuing with that angle, Berlin, 1961 discusses the location shoot and again, real world events from those who lived through them. Military tech buffs will enjoy U-2 Spy Plane, concerning itself with tech specs and realities of flying at 70,000 feet in what was then an advanced aircraft. Spy Swap interviews one of the men captured and family of the others. Recordings are also offered. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Extras]


Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.

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