It’s 1957 and the Cold War between the Soviet Union, and the United States is on the mind of every American. The Soviets have the nuclear bomb; tension is high around the world, and the Rosenberg’s have been electrocuted for conspiracy to commit espionage against America. A Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) has been caught and is about to go to trial. An unlikely counsel, insurance lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks) has been volunteered by his company to be the attorney for Abel. It seems that Donovan was a prosecutor during the Nuremberg trials, and, therefore, has some experience in the field. The government wants to show the world that the U.S. system of justice gives everyone a fair trial.
Almost everyone, including his wife, Mary (Amy Ryan) thinks it’s a bad idea for Donovan to take the case, but after meeting Abel in person, he decides to take it. Even though the evidence is overwhelming, and Abel isn’t a very likable person, Donavan is determined to give this case his all. The best that Donavan can hope for is for life in prison and not the death sentence. Donovan goes to the judge in the case, Judge Myers (Dakin Mathews) and makes a case for saving Abel’s life. If the judge gives Abel life, the U.S. can use Abel to make a swap if the Soviets ever capture an American spy. Unbeknownst to Donovan, just what he predicted has happened. On a mission to photograph a Soviet installation, U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) is shot down and is captured. Now a chess match is about to begin between the two global powers and attorney James Donovan is about to become the center of the storm.
This is a big, sprawling Hollywood film that Steven Spielberg is so good at directing. The film starts out with an incredible sequence as Abel is being shadowed (unknown to him) by the FBI. We follow the rather quirky Abel as he takes a roundabout trek to retrieve a message that has been left under a park bench. The tension ramps up as we follow Abel back to his apartment, and he is then apprehended. It’s a masterful sequence and sets up the stakes of the film from the start. Spielberg’s camera placement in these scenes is perfect; the cinematography by Janusz Kaminsky paints the mood of the bleak time period. Adding to the brilliance of the sequence is the fact that until the arrest, there isn’t any dialogue. The sequence also immerses us in the world of the late 50’s and early 60’s, giving us a feel for the mood of the country during the height of the Cold War.
The script by Matt Charman and Joel and Ethan Coen is filled with crisp dialogue. The movie is packed with that Coen touch of humor and irony. The Coen brothers influence is very evident in scenes later in the film where Donovan is negotiating with both the Soviets and the East Germans. The film never gets bogged down, even with the trial scenes. The second half of the movie is full of twists and turns, and even though you might know the outcome of this based on true event’s film, it’s still loaded with tension.
This is a role that is tailor-made for Tom Hanks, playing the determined lawyer who seems part every man and part brilliant lawyer. Hanks plays Donovan as a man who while somewhat easygoing, is committed to do the right thing and is compassionate about his fellow man. Hanks plays him as a man that can find humor in almost any situation. It’s that sense of humor that helps his character deal with the desperate situations that he gets into in the film. I had a hard time coming up with anyone else that could play this role so well. George Clooney, maybe, but he would have to tone down the smart aleck vibe. The supporting cast is also up to the task, with Alan Alda as Donovan’s boss and Mark Rylance as Rudolf Abel as the standouts.
“Bridge of Spies” is the type of big “Hollywood “ film that is so hard to pull off, but Spielberg succeeds. He brings us a tale that is tension filled, and thrilling but also filled with small emotional scenes that make this film so enjoyable to watch. It helps when your leading man is up to the task of a very demanding role of a character that is willing to take on the world. My Rating: Full Price
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
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