Bridge of Spies: Stresses Humanity over Politics

In Bridge of Spies viewers are taken back to the Cold War era of 1957. The story, based on true events, revolves around the exchange of Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) for American spy plane pilot Francis Powers (Austin Stowell). The exchange is effected by a Brooklyn insurance lawyer, James Donovan (Tom Hanks), and eventually takes place on Glienicker Bridge in Germany.

Despite the obvious importance of politics in this story, Steven Spielberg’s focus is on the personal, and so the wider Russian/American conflict simply forms the backdrop. This has the effect of drawing the side story – that of an American student caught up in the East German conflict at the time – into centre focus as well. Because of clever bargaining tactics and humane motives, Donovan manages to swap two Americans for just one Soviet spy. After this encounter, Donovan apparently went on to effect the release of thousands of exiles in Cuba, about 8000 more than he was originally tasked for. Similarities to Spielberg’s Schindler’s List – one of my favourite films – are obvious.

Rylance’s completely understated performance of Abel is a standout and simply serves to highlight the humane focus of this film. Both sides of the Russian/American cold war conflict are fairly equally portrayed. Indeed, the scene in which the exchange of the spies takes place on a bridge seems symbolic of this very thing; symbolic of two enemies being equally guilty, symbolic of the equal humanity of the “enemy” with oneself, and symbolic of the importance of people over politics.

I wonder what film Spielberg will make post the American/ISIS conflict…

Bridge of Spies opened at cinemas in South Africa on 6 November 2015.

Hope in The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete

A review by Brenda Daniels

When I heard the title of this film I thought it must be an animated feature or a children’s film. And it does open with a 13-year-old boy sobbing at receiving an “F” on a school paper. But, no, The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, is a sobering story of how two young boys survive a summer holiday in a very real, difficult, adult world. It carries an age restriction of 16DL.

The story starts at the end of school term with the main character, Mister, having a bad day. He’s told by his teacher he’ll have to repeat Eighth Grade. When Mister gets home, his drugged-out mother gives him a “benefits” card to go and buy food. The card doesn’t work. Worst of all, Mister is lumped with nine-year-old Pete, a neighbour whose mother is absent.

Mister’s mom, Gloria, also absents the scene after she is arrested for doing drugs. Desperate to stay out of a juvenile facility, the two boys, left alone, dodge the police and do their utmost to make it through until Mister’s mom returns.

Different adult characters people Mister’s world, from the dim-witted man on the corner, to an aggressive store keeper, an unkempt war-veteran beggar, a sympathetic friend of his mother’s, and a loud hoodlum. All play an important part in advancing the plot. At one point one of them tells Mister that the boy will, inevitably, be caught by the police. Mister looks up the words “inevitable defeat” in the dictionary. It is these words that played out in my mind as Mister and Pete fought a losing battle against poverty and the realities of life in an underprivileged part of Brooklyn.

I was constantly aware that there would be no miraculously happy ending in The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete.  It seems surprising, then, that the film is not depressing. Or hopeless. And I think it’s because the action is seen through the eyes of a child. So what’s important to Mister is failing his English paper; having to babysit a too-young Korean boy (Pete); auditioning for a part in a play. All this, together with the school scenes, left me wondering if The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete wasn’t just a child’s “story”. But juxtaposed with the all-too-real adult world of drugs, crime, prostitution and struggle, I realised it couldn’t be.

And I think that’s what director George Tillman Jr wanted to achieve.

Skylan Brooks as Mister and Ethan Dizon as Pete act superbly. And their developing relationship of love and respect is touching to watch.

The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete is an intelligent, interesting film. It opens at Cinema Nouveau in South Africa on Friday 6 June.

Despite their defeat in The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, the boys have hope.

Despite their defeat in The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, the boys have hope.