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'Bridge of Spies': How it compares to director Steven Spielberg's previous work

Spielberg has become known for inspiring movies that are based on true stories. His upcoming film 'Bridge' stars Tom Hanks as a lawyer who becomes involved in Cold War politics.

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    'Bridge of Spies' stars Tom Hanks (r.) and Mark Rylance (l.).
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Actor Tom Hanks and director Steven Spielberg are teaming up again for the upcoming film “Bridge of Spies.” 

“Bridge” is based on a true story in which lawyer James Donovan (portrayed by Mr. Hanks in “Bridge”) takes on the job of defending Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a suspected Soviet spy. When an American pilot named Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) is captured in Russia, James is tasked with carrying out a prisoner exchange.

The movie co-stars Alan Alda, Amy Ryan, and Billy Magnussen. Mr. Spielberg and Hanks have previously worked together on such movies as "The Terminal," "Catch Me If You Can," and "Saving Private Ryan."

“Bridge” has gotten fairly good early reviews (it was screened at the New York Film Festival) and critics have noted its almost retro tone. In an age where anti-heroes dominate especially the television landscape – recent hit series like AMC’s “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men” and HBO’s “Game of Thrones” center on people of ambiguous morals forced to make difficult choices – “Bridge” centers on a person determined to do what is right.

Many critics are comparing Hanks’s performance to actor James Stewart, who was famous for, among other roles, starring in various inspiring movies directed by Frank Capra. “Jimmy Stewart gave us ‘Mr Smith Goes to Washington,’ Hanks gives us ‘Mr Donovan Goes to Cold War Berlin,’” Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw writes of “Bridge." Chris Nashawaty of Entertainment Weekly called the film itself “old-fashioned” and writes that Hanks is “once again tapping into the Jimmy Stewart Boy Scout idealism that’s become his forte.” Hollywood Reporter writer Todd McCarthy called Donovan “a sort-of Atticus Finch of the north” and Variety writer Peter Debruge wrote of the film, “[Spielberg]’s mythmaking approach makes for great Capra-esque entertainment, [though] younger audiences may find it terribly old-fashioned.” 

It’s less that an inspiring based-on-a-true-story film is a rarity during the awards season – voters for the Oscars often love those – but that Spielberg has become so known for this genre. Two of his most famous films are 1993's “Schindler’s List,” about an industrialist who worked to save Jews from World War II concentration camps, and “Saving Private Ryan,” about American soldiers working to find a private during World War II so he can be sent home. His most recent effort, 2012’s “Lincoln,” chronicled the president's push to abolish slavery. 

While he may return to this source of inspiration, some of Spielberg’s upcoming projects have another basis: literature. Spielberg is reportedly directing a film version of Roald Dahl’s children’s book “The BFG” as well as a movie adaptation of Ernest Cline’s science fiction book “Ready Player One.” 

Meanwhile, the competition for “Bridge” this awards season has some other inspiring stories, some based on real life and others fictional. These include the movie “Spotlight,” which is based on the Boston Globe reporters’ coverage of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

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