Matt Charman Q+A: Bridge of Spies (2015)

So Wednesday 6th April saw me sat in a Q+A session with the incredible Matt Charman, screenwriter of Bridge of Spies. He was a fascinating bloke to say the least, particularly interesting to me as I love writing and have always considered screenwriting a potential career path for me.

Matt Charman’s advice to early writers, or to any writers, is to “write what you want to see.” And as writers, we should be able to tell anecdotes and stories well. I myself am sometimes eloquently fascinating or sometimes lose absolutely all social skills and bore everybody to sleep with my life stories, however this will force me to practice! His work ethic too is incredibly impressive; writing on one project from 7am-1pm, then writing on another project from 1.30pm-7pm. If you want to write, just keep at it!

The idea for Bridge of Spies came from footnote in a book, according to Charlan, about JFK and his administration, where JFK sent a man named James Donovan, an insurance lawyer, to negotiate in Cuba with Castro directly to return American hostages during JFK’s “Bay of Pigs” period. The footnote told Charlan that James Donovan was an insurance lawyer who was known for negotiating in East Berlin in the Rudolf Abel case. His mind was whirling; who is this James Donovan that the American government put all their faith in- twice?

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I wrote a short review on Bridge of Spies a while back in November after I had watched the film, but never published it. So here we go:

Three reasons I thought I’d like this film. First, because it is directed by Steven Spielberg- you’ve got an above average film right there already. Secondly, because it’s based on a true story of America in the 1950s – which I am completely fascinated with. And thirdly… It starred Tom Hanks. An amazing man and a fantastic actor, class A, the best- I love Tom Hanks. But what did concern me was that this film could end up being another boring Lincoln. But how wrong I was!

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union captures U.S. pilot Francis Gary Powers after shooting down his U-2 spy plane. The only hope of freedom is New York lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks), recruited by a CIA operative to negotiate his release. Donovan boards a plane to Berlin, hoping to win the young man’s freedom through a prisoner exchange. If all goes well, the Russians would get Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), the convicted spy who Donovan defended in court.

ST. JAMES PLACE

Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg are a reliable combination. And with a killer script by Matt Charman, and Mark Rylance’s support, this film is an engaging, captivating watch. I wasn’t surprised either to see the Coen Brothers being the co-writers on this (alongside Charman), as some of the dialogue and the mood the Coens create in their films was ever present. Mark Rylance (who won Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards), is incredible, there are no words (and adding to this review now, he seriously deserved the Oscar, he’s a wonderful actor).

A politically driven film, and topical at it’s time of release with recent terrorist attacks, our society living in fear and world leaders doing what is easy and not right, Bridge of Spies also portrays a society living in fear, but a character like Donovan addresses the opposite; do what is right and not what is easy. Overall, Bridge of Spies is a wonderful film, thoroughly enjoyable and even my American friend grew emotional stating “this film has made me so proud to be an American.” Like 50s America, forever living in fear of the Atom Bomb, we shouldn’t live in fear either as life just goes on and, like Mark Rylance’s Rudolf Abel asks, “would it help?”

M x

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