“Bridge of Spies” movie review

By Jeff Boudreaux

Bridge of Spies

The tried-and-true team of Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks (“Saving Private Ryan,” “Catch Me if You Can”) deliver yet another winner in “Bridge of Spies,” a fascinating cold war drama that serves as both a true account of one of America’s most audacious negotiations with both the Soviet Union and East Germany, as well as a proper tribute to a real unsung hero, attorney James Donovan. This is a magnificent film, and I’d be absolutely shocked if it didn’t manage to secure an Oscar nomination for best picture. Spielberg shows why he is not merely one of the greatest directors alive today, he is one of the all-time greats. A master at storytelling, he keeps us in suspense throughout, calms us when he deems it necessary, and effectively humanizes even our enemies.


Russian agent Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance of “The Gunman,” “Intimacy”) is arrested for attempting to gather national secrets for the Soviet Union. Not wanting the matter to turn into a kangaroo court, so to speak, the FBI along with the CIA pressure high-profile insurance attorney James Donovan (Tom Hanks) to represent the spy. In the square of public opinion, this is surely a matter of national security and Donovan becomes an unpopular man, to say the least. However, in the interest of due process, Donovan gives the case everything he has. At the same time the U.S. is running U-2 surveillance planes in Russian airspace, with orders for servicemen to prevent capture by making the ultimate sacrifice. Pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell from “Whiplash”) finds himself shot down behind enemy lines, yet values his life (who can blame him) and is taken prisoner by the Russians.


Obviously, we have quite the similar situation here and Donovan is smart enough to foresee a possible solution: and that is for the CIA, with Donovan as their main negotiator, to organize a trade with the Russians – Abel for Powers. Will the Russians accept such a trade? Abel is a much older man than Powers, and there’s also the uncertainty on either side whether or not their counterparts have cooperated with their captors. Add this to a newly-built Berlin Wall and an American student being held by the East Germans and we have a classic true account of our nation at its most powerful, and one man who sure knew how to negotiate.


“Bridge of Spies” employs a script by British playwright Matt Charman along with famous directorial/screenwriting siblings Joel and Ethan Coen (“No Country for Old Men,” “Unbroken”), which would explain some of the sharp, sarcastic wit being dispersed by its characters, especially in the case of James Donovan. This approach tends to energize a subject matter that has usually been relegated to the cold and unflinching film adaptations of John le Carré novels, yet doesn’t diminish the severity of its tense drama. Tom Hanks finds his best role in years as the feisty lawyer, who believe it or not is revealed to be a true American hero that never has had to fire a single shot. He simply had an undeniable love for country, with its best interests firmly in heart. “Bridge of Spies” brings us back to a time when the threat of nuclear annihilation was a very real thing (or at least very much talked about). The courage that one man had in dealing with not one, but two communist regimes is a testament to a time when America was undoubtedly the most powerful country on Earth.


**** (four out of four stars)

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