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Bridge of Spies – Movie Review

Bridge of Spies is the story of seasoned insurance lawyer, James Donovan (Tom Hanks). At the request of the United States government, Donovan would be reluctantly enlisted to serve as the defense attorney of a Russian spy.

Release Date: October 16, 2015
Writer: Matt Charman, Ethan & Joel Coen
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Tom Hanks, Amy Ryan, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda

Bridge of Spies takes place during the height of the Cold War in the 1960’s. Germany was divided between East and West and the Berlin Wall was erected to prevent East German citizens from escaping. Both the United States and Russia were spying on one another and it was only a matter of time before one was caught.

That time is now with the capture of a Russian spy, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance). The web of diplomacy is complicated. Russia will not acknowledge Abel as a spy, but wants him back before he gives up Russian intelligence. The United States, on the other hand, has a spy and needs to conduct a proper trial to show that Abel trial and fair and authentic.

No one wants to defend a spy. The United States government forces insurance lawyer, James Donovan, to defend Abel, even though this will most likely ruin his reputation socially and professionally. Master storyteller, Steven Spielberg, rightly spends little time on the trial. It’s clear in just one interaction with the judge and district attorney that the trial would appear fair, but there’s no way the spy was going to be found innocent.

Not soon after the trial, Air Force pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) is shot out of the sky on a U2 spy mission. Powers flew at high altitudes over Russia to take photographs. Instead of destroying the plane and committing suicide, Powers is captured and interrogated as an American spy.

Because of his relationship to Russian spy, Abel, James Donovan is asked by the U.S. Government to negotiate the exchange of Powers and Abel. To throw a final wrinkle into the plan, a U.S. economics student is captured in East Berlin by the East Germans. While the U.S. Government wants to trade spy for a spy, Donovan insists that the innocent college student is also included in the deal.

Bridge of Spies is a historical thriller about time that many Americans have lived through. Sadly, our memories of that time are slowly fading. Writers Mark Charman and the Coen Brothers with director Steven Spielberg weave an engaging tale with great actors, Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance.

Filmmakers successfully tell a straightforward story about this period of time in a way that is thrilling and easy-to-follow. They also tell an emotional story in which you feel stress the pressure that each of the characters in history refacing at the time. And without ever saying it these moments silent moments of time to convey how America was feeling about each person.

Bridge of Spies is also spy movie. The problem is Donovan is an average person.  He is civilian. Unlike James Bond, Donovan doesn’t have a gun, has no fighting skills or possess cool gadgets for protection. Yet he is being sent into the hostile ground in East Berlin to negotiate for America without the United States government acknowledging that he has any authority to do so. It Donovan is arrested, kidnapped, or caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, there is no one there to help them.

There’s a moment when Donovan is on a subway train reading his newspaper. The headline of the paper reveals that Donovan is going to defend the spy in a case as being brought all the way to the Supreme Court. And without any words is neighboring passengers on the train convey how America feels about Donovan at this point in history. A scene at the end of the movie mirrors is exact scene and without words expresses it once again America’s new feeling toward Donovan.

Bridge of Spies is one of those movies you watch because it’s educational, engaging and well told, well directed and well acted. Has an incredible repeat viewing and is the perfect example as to why Steven Spielberg is a master storyteller. For those of us who live through the Gary Powers trial, this movie reveals a lot that we didn’t know about and makes little-known James Donovan the United States hero.