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Bridge of Spies: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

Bridge of Spies (2015) movie poster Bridge of Spies

Theatrical Release: October 16, 2015 / Running Time: 135 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Steven Spielberg / Writers: Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Cast: Tom Hanks (James Donovan), Mark Rylance (Rudolf Abel), Scott Shepherd (Hoffman), Amy Ryan (Mary Donovan), Sebastian Koch (Wolfgang Vogel), Alan Alda (Thomas Watters), Austin Stowell (Francis Gary Powers), Billy Magnussen (Doug Forrester), Eve Hewson (Jan Donovan), Jesse Plemmons (Joe Murphy), Michael Gaston (Agent Williams), Peter McRobbie (Allen Dulles), Domenick Lombardozzi (Agent Blasco), Dakin Matthews (Judge Mortimer Byers), Jillian Lebling (Peggy Donovan), Noah Schnapp (Roger Donovan)

Buy Bridge of Spies from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD DVD Instant Video

A pairing of Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks is not the exciting occurrence it was in the 1990s when one was America's favorite filmmaker and the other America's favorite actor. Still, these two men will forever remain Hollywood royalty and you can be sure whatever they do even apart but especially together will get people's attentions. Bridge of Spies represents the fourth collaboration between director and star,
following Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me If You Can, and The Terminal.

This Cold War thriller is set at the turn of the 1960s. We open with a painter in Brooklyn taking a subway ride under scrutiny from stealthy men in suits. He is Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) and after we see him engaging in secretive activities, he is arrested in his apartment, accused of being a spy for the Soviet Union. Insurance lawyer James Donovan (Hanks) is assigned to defend the mild-mannered suspect who immediately becomes Public Enemy No. 1 as US-USSR tensions soar.

Against great odds, Donovan goes all Atticus Finch for Abel, ensuring he gets as close to due process as America's legal system will allow. The lawyer pleads for his client to be sentenced to prison, not death, a wish the Judge honors despite wearing his disdain for Abel on his sleeve. Donovan reasons that Abel could be valuable some day in a possible prisoner exchange with Russia and he proves to be right. Soon, taking direction from the CIA and other government agencies, Donovan is coordinating the release of the Russian spy in exchange for two Americans being held by the Soviets: a downed U-2 pilot and a college student who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time (the Berlin Wall at its construction).

Donovan flies to Germany and meets with lawyers, officials, and even some people posing as Abel's family. The movie dramatizes these tense negotiations in this time of unrest, while Donovan nurses a cold after his overcoat is stolen by a street gang.

In "Bridge of Spies", James Donovan (Tom Hanks) is appointed to defend Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a man captured in America and tried as a Soviet spy.

Bridge of Spies is definitely a film from the director of Lincoln. Spielberg made his name on entertaining adventures, from the Indiana Jones series to Jaws, E.T., and Jurassic Park. In recent years, Spielberg the blockbuster maker has deferred to Spielberg the prestige director. Since his 2008 return to Indy brought huge returns and an eventual near-consensus of public disappointment, Spielberg has directed mocap franchise non-starter The Adventures of Tintin and the Best Picture-nominated dramas War Horse and Lincoln.

He continues to lend at least his name as executive producer of commercial popcorn enterprises from Transformers to the record-smashing Jurassic World. But in terms of telling stories as director, Spielberg's tastes have shifted from the spectacular and otherworldly to the stately and serious. You can trace Spielberg's dramatic side back to 1985's The Color Purple and it is this streak that his produced his most critically admired works, Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan. Still, you kind of wish he could lighten up and make something fun again, descriptions that might apply to his next two scheduled films: adaptations of Roald Dahl's The BFG and Ernest Cline's dystopian sci-fi novel Ready Player One.

Though two of its three credited screenwriters are the Coen Brothers, Bridge of Spies keeps Spielberg sober and austere. There are attempts to humanize our protagonist, who is shown to have a wife (Amy Ryan) and three kids. And there are a few decidedly humorous moments scattered throughout. But Bridge mostly picks up where Lincoln left off both in appearance and tone. Spielberg and his longtime cinematographer Janusz Kaminski again favor a monochromatic look that relies heavily on natural light. Meanwhile, the movie is as focused on this one negotiation as Lincoln was on the efforts to pass the Thirteenth Amendment. At least that 2012 film scrutinized historic legislation with far-reaching consequences and had a well-known hero (portrayed by a master actor) at its center.

James Donovan (Tom Hanks) places a phone call home to his family, who is under the impression he's fishing for salmon. Mark Rylance, a British actor known primarily for his stage work, picked up an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his turn as terse, accused Soviet spy Rudolf Abel.

Bridge tells an unknown story that seems kind of important for its time but not significant enough to be taught in schools or dissected. James Donovan is no conventional hero and his heroics unfold with -- what else? -- talking. One wonders how the filmmaker behind some of cinema's most exciting sequences of all time isn't bored to death shooting an entire movie consisting of different pairs of men talking in unremarkable rooms. He's done it twice in a row now. As a critical viewer who values story, characters, and dialogue much more than action and visual effects,

I should admire Spielberg's change of pace as signs of growth and maturation. But it's hard to admire something that you're literally fighting to stay awake through.

Of course, Spielberg remains a master craftsman. His compositions, cuts, and creative decisions make for an interesting expression of the medium. The director again attracts some of the finest talent in town and it shows in everything from the period production and costume design to a score that for once is handled not by John Williams (who was sidelined by health issues) but by the consistently appealing Thomas Newman. This sterling technical work earned Bridge of Spies notice in the Oscars' lesser categories, but it is not enough to offset the bone-dry material. Keeping the Cold in Cold War, Spielberg rarely breaks from a Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy tone, most noticeably in a cornball final sequence returning us to New York. The film takes pains to keep us in the dark regarding Abel, the two Americans he could be exchanged for, and the man who is determined to make it happen.

Without being successfully sold on any of this, nothing -- not Hanks' reliably compelling presence, not Rylance's guarded turn (which yielded a Supporting Actor nomination despite a forced catchphrase and his curiously Scottish accent), not the polished technical facets, not current events that echo this -- can keep us as engaged as we should be while watching a movie based on a true story.

Nominated for six Academy Awards, Bridge of Spies follows its leggy, formidable $72 million domestic and $161 million worldwide grosses with this week's Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack release and a standalone DVD.

Bridge of Spies: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 7.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Descriptive Service)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Descriptive Service, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
DVD Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled and Captioned
Release Date: February 2, 2016
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($29.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video


Even if you find his latest work a tad dull, you can be certain that Steven Spielberg films always look and sound like true cinema. Bridge of Spies maintains the director's high production value with its sterling, deliberately cold production design and stylized lighting and cinematography, which are all on fine display in the Blu-ray's top notch, high bit rate 2.40:1 presentation. Sound mixing is one of the film's six nominations, which means you can expect the 7.1 DTS-HD master audio to command notice in a good way. Between the crisp dialogue, Thomas Newman's sultry score, and the occasional atmospheric effect, the mix gets the job done in satisfying fashion.

The real Frederic Pryor shares some thoughts on the personal experiences dramatized in the film. Steven Spielberg is seen directing, per usual, in a baseball cap.


As always for a Steven Spielberg film, no commentary or deleted scenes are offered here. Instead, we find a quartet of making-of featurettes.

First up comes "A Case of the Cold War: Bridge of Spies" (17:45),
which considers the history and the real people of this story as well as Spielberg's fascination with the era. Comments from the actors portraying real people and the real Frederic Pryor are complemented by valuable archival film and audio.

Next, "Berlin 1961: Recreating the Divide" (11:35) offers the same mix of historical and behind-the-scenes footage. The topic of recreating the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie inevitably prompts some consideration of production and costume design.

"U-2 Spy Plane" (8:45) focuses on the CIA aircraft and its military significance. The piece is really designed to focus on the real Francis Gary Powers, whose son served as both consultant and an actor on the film.

Watch a clip from the Bridge of Spies bonus features:

"Spy Swap" takes us inside production's wrapping with the bridge climax. Amy Ryan appears on the Bridge of Spies DVD main menu as Donovan's period-accurate housewife.

"Spy Swap: Looking Back on the Final Act" (5:42) shows us what went into the film's climax, which was the last scene shot.

Finally, credits are provided for the bonus features (1:03), which per the usual Spielberg process were produced by Laurent Bouzereau.

The DVD only includes "A Case of the Cold War" and the credits, even though the dual-layered disc has room to fit a little more.

Each disc's main menu offers a scored, stately montage.

The only thing the discs open with is curiously an anti-smoking spot.

Topped by a glossy, embossed slipcover featuring the same artwork, the side-snapped keepcase includes a double-sided digital copy insert alongside the plain white DVD and blue Blu-ray.

The climax of "Bridge of Spies" brings James Donovan (Tom Hanks) and Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) to the titular bridge where a prisoner exchange is scheduled.


Steven Spielberg remains in somber, historical mode on Bridge of Spies, a finely-crafted but only somewhat satisfying Cold War drama. This good but not quite great film is a showcase of Spielberg's technical virtues but also proof that his ability to excite and entertain audiences may be slipping. The Disney/DreamWorks combo pack delivers an excellent feature presentation plus a solid if somewhat standard 45 minutes of making-of featurettes.

Buy Bridge of Spies from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
New to Disc: Straight Outta Compton Sicario The Walk Burnt Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Directed by Steven Spielberg: Lincoln War Horse Amistad Catch Me If You Can The Terminal
Tom Hanks: Captain Phillips Saving Mr. Banks Forrest Gump | Mark Rylance: The Other Boleyn Girl
Written by the Coen Brothers: Inside Llewyn Davis Gambit A Serious Man
The Judge Selma The Conspirator Jurassic World The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

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Reviewed February 1, 2016.

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and 2016 DreamWorks Home Entertainment, Touchstone Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.