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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Movie Reviews > Bridge of Spies

MOVIE REVIEWS

BRIDGE OF SPIES (2015)

Starring Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Austin Stowell, Will Rogers, Alan Alda, Eve Hewson, Noah Schnapp, Peter McRobbie, Billy Magnussen, Jesse Plemons, Michael Pemberton, John Rue, Nadja Bobyleva, Domenick Lombardozzi, Victor Verhaeghe, Michael Gaston, Sebastian Koch, Noah Schnapp, Dakin Matthews, Jillian Lebling, Stephen Kunken, Edward James Hyland, Petra-Maria Cammin, Luce Dreznin and Michael Schenk.

Screenplay by Matt Charman and Ethan Coen & Joel Coen.

Directed by Steven Spielberg.

Distributed by Touchstone Pictures.  141 minutes.  Rated PG-13.

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Bridge of Spies

With names like star Tom Hanks, director Steven Spielberg and co-writers Ethan and Joel Coen, there were some high expectations for Bridge of Spies when it was released to theaters this fall.  This historical drama, based on the deep background of the Cold War spy cases of Rudolf Abel and Francis Gary Powers, looks at an important time in the not-so-distant history.  The split of East and West Berlin is an inherently dramatic and fascinating time and place in history.  And it has the added benefit of telling a true story, mostly forgotten by time, of how a single man who was in totally over his head, stared down three governments to broker a deal which arguably fended off a major international incident and potential war.

Bridge of Spies is a very good film, though maybe not quite as good as it should be with all those aspects kept in mind.

The man who was over his head was Jim Donovan (Tom Hanks), a respected middle-class insurance lawyer who lived a fifties ideal Father Knows Best existence, with a doting wife (Amy Ryan) and two adorable children, a teenaged girl and a young boy.  One day, when he goes into work, his boss (Alan Alda) calls him into his office and tells him that he wants Jim to handle a case which was totally outside of his specialty.

That case was Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a Russian immigrant painter who has been arrested for being a Soviet spy.  The case had become something of a cause célèbre in the news and Abel, who was a quiet, thoughtful man who appeared to have no malice in him, had become the villain du jour.

The government wanted to make sure that the man had competent legal council.  (This was back when the idea, or perhaps illusion, of a potential war criminal having a fair trial was still of the utmost importance to the government and the people.)  No one expected Abel would be freed, but they wanted it to at least be a fair fight.  In the end, Donovan put up a vigorous defense, but the cards were stacked against him.  The one concession that he got was in convincing the judge not to give the Russian the death sentence.  Donovan explained that the prisoner could be used as a bargaining chip in future negotiations with the Russians.

This opportunity arose quicker than anyone imagined, when a US fighter pilot named Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell), flying a top secret military U2 plane, was shot down in Soviet territory and being charged with espionage. 

Complicating things even more, an American graduate student named Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers) has been caught on the wrong side of the newly built Berlin Wall and is also being held with threats of an espionage charge.

Soon afterwards, Donovan was contacted by a lawyer claiming to be representing Abel's wife (though Donovan has reason to believe this is not true) saying that perhaps a trade could be made of Abel for Powers. 

Unfortunately, none of the governments are willing to go on the record that they are negotiating.  So Donovan is sent to Berlin to see how serious this offer really is.  Donovan is determined to get both Powers and Pryor in return for Abel, but all three governments are fighting for their own separate particulars and every time it seems like progress is being made, a road block is thrown up.

I won't let on a spoiler as to whether or not Donovan was successful, though students of history will already know that answer.

However, the true triumph of Bridge of Spies is in showing that fraught time in history.  This is Hanks' best performance in years, and Spielberg has always had a knack for portraying dramatic life in totalitarian regimes.  Bridge of Spies is a fine history lesson and a celebration of a forgotten patriot.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2016 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: February 2, 2016.

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Copyright ©2016 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: February 2, 2016.

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