‘Bridge of Spies’ Reviews: Is Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks Cold War Drama a Career Best?

Hanks plays an American attorney tasked with negotiating the release of a U-2 spy plane pilot shot down over Russia

“Bridge of Spies” is shaping up to be another career high for director Steven Spielberg and star Tom Hanks.

Critics are praising star Hanks and co-star Mark Rylance for mesmerizing performances while their based-on-real-life characters navigate through East Berlin in the midst of the Cold War. Observers praised the tiniest details, including costume design and art direction, in the story about an American attorney tasked with negotiating the release of a U-2 spy plane pilot shot down over Russia.

TheWrap’s Alonso Duralde was among the majority of critics who helped Disney’s Friday release score a 92 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. He appreciated the cinematography, and echoed many others in giving major props to Hanks.

“Donovan is a classic Hanks role: upright, intelligent, compassionate, armed with a sense of humor,” Duralde wrote. “It’s not revelatory work, by any means, but it’s a solid turn from an exceedingly capable leading man.”

There appears to be an overall consensus that “Bridge of Spies” is one of Hanks’ and Spielberg’s best films to date. Only time will tell if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences takes notice, too as awards season starts to ramp up in Hollywood.

Read 11 of the most stellar reviews below.

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post:

“‘Bridge of Spies’ expands from being a smart, engrossing procedural to a carefully observed character study of Donovan, a particularly intriguing, heretofore overlooked American figure. Thanks to his own reflexive values, Spielberg can’t help but make the kind of inspiring, classically constructed drama that we keep being told Hollywood doesn’t produce anymore.”

Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune:

“It’s brilliant, really. What’s the quickest way to establish the humanity of two leading characters in a Cold War drama? Give them both the sniffles. ‘Bridge of Spies’ does that, and more. The film is an anomaly — a confident, slightly square, highly satisfying example of old-school Hollywood craftsmanship, starring a major movie star brandishing a briefcase, and a handkerchief, rather than a pistol.”

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times:

“‘Bridge of Spies’ is a consummate professional’s tribute to a gifted amateur, a smooth entertainment with a strong but subtle political subtext that’s both potent and unexpected. The professional would be Steven Spielberg, a director with more than 40 years of experience whose superior filmmaking skills have been with us for so long it’s tempting to take them for granted, which would be a mistake. Storytelling this proficient is never something we see every day.”

Joe Neumaier, TIME Magazine:

“This covertly brawny film, with a script by Matt Charman and Joel and Ethan Coen, has plot points that click like pegs under Spielberg’s tight direction. In his fourth pairing with Hanks, Spielberg again examines the furtive face of justice and issues another masterful ruling.”

Brian Truitt, USA Today:

“Hanks is, as usual, rock solid as Donovan, giving an extra air of humanity to a rookie wading into the rough and murky waters of espionage. The Coen brothers boost the ‘Spies’ script, especially in the interactions between Donovan and Abel as they forge a friendship — Donovan cares and worries about his client’s well-being, and Abel plays the good soldier who won’t give the CIA anything about his covert work. Rylance, a known commodity to the PBS faithful of ‘Wolf Hall’ and super-fans of the English stage, is a brilliant revelation here to everyone else. He emits an icy intensity yet also a kind nature as Abel sits reserved, either in jail, a courtroom or on a freezing-cold bridge, waiting for whatever fate chooses for him.”

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, A.V. Club:

“But even when it errs on the side of the heavy-handed, Spielberg’s direction retains a canvas-like quality. Large chunks of ‘Bridge Of Spies’ may consist of men sitting and talking in evasive doublespeak, but the movie always articulates itself visually, and its two most suspenseful sequences are both effectively wordless: the opening, in which FBI agents pursue Abel through the streets and subways of late ’50s New York, and the crash of Powers’ U-2 spy plane during a surveillance mission over the Soviet Union. An ode to holding fast to moral principles, geopolitics be damned, becomes a hurrah for old-fashioned big-screen storytelling.”

Manohla Dargis, New York Times:

“Every movie is about its own historical moment, though some are more overt or adamant about connecting the past with the present. ‘Bridge of Spies’ is, like most of Mr. Spielberg’s films, a consummate entertainment that sweeps you up with pure cinema. As the story clicks along – Abel is convicted, Powers and Pryor snared and Donovan tapped to handle the swap – Mr. Spielberg heats up the drama with some action, throws in crowds and chaos, and transforms ordinary spaces like a home, an office and a street into battlefields. None are more ominous than the funereal rooms in which cold, gray men move lives like chess pieces. (The supporting cast includes Peter McRobbie as Allen Dulles, the C.I.A. director, and Mikhail Gorevoy as Ivan Schischkin, a Soviet mystery man.)”

Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun Times:

“Hanks will be in the conversation for best actor, Rylance will almost certainly be nominated for best supporting actor, and when the titles of the five-plus films nominated for best picture are announced, it will be a surprise if ‘Bridge of Spies’ doesn’t make the cut.”

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle:

“Watching a Spielberg movie is like riding in the back of an old Town Car. There’s plenty of room, the construction is solid, you know you’re heading somewhere, and even if there are bumps, the ride is always smooth. Indeed, Steven Spielberg is so smooth, so good at what he does, that his best movies have a way of seeming inevitable, when they’re the furthest thing from it. Case in point, ‘Bridge of Spies,’ which is the product of some thousand (or 10,000) decisions that all happened to be right, from the casting, to the choice of shots, to the direction of the actors, to the costumes and art direction.”

Lou Lumenick, New York Post:

“‘Bridge of Spies,’ Steven Spielberg‘s best film since ‘Saving Private Ryan,‘ stars a flawless Tom Hanks in the smart, old-school thriller as James Donovan, a Brooklyn lawyer who risked his life to free an American spy whose plane was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960. The gripping real-life exploits begin a few years before that, with the capture of a longtime Soviet agent, Rudolf Abel, in New York — depicted with minimal dialogue in one of the most mesmerizing sequences Spielberg has ever directed.”

Soren Andersen, Seattle Times:

“Hanks does a great job playing Donovan as a man of essential decency who nevertheless is an expert negotiator and a hardheaded realist. The skill with which Hanks navigates the intricacies of the plot amount to some of the best work of his career.”

“Bridge of Spies” hits theaters on Oct. 16.