Bridge of Spies


Steven Spielberg's best movies are generally about decent men doing extraordinary things. They're rarely about women although women are vitally important to the decent men. In Spielberg's latest film, Bridge of Spies, Tom Hanks, a trusted Spielberg collaborator, stars as New York insurance attorney James Donovan, whose firm is asked to represent a Soviet spy (Mark Rylance) who is caught by American G-men in Brooklyn. Donovan is reluctant to take the case at first but after meeting the enigmatic, taciturn Rudolf Abel commits to offering top drawer representation. Because it is the late 1950s and the U.S. is mired in paranoia and fear of the Reds, Donovan finds himself alone in providing what the Constitution guarantees even enemies of the state -- a fair hearing. Still, the jury finds Abel guilty of all charges but the judge, rather than ordering him executed, sentences Abel to 30 years in prison in hopes, as Donovan pointed out ex parte, that such mercy might be viewed favorably if an American was ever captured by the Soviets doing just what Abel was doing. From his mouth to God's ear for shortly after Abel's sentencing, an American pilot (Austin Stowell) is blasted out of the sky high over Russia while shooting film of the terrain (a thrilling set piece BTW). The pilot is taken into custody, tried and imprisoned. Simultaneously, an American economics student (Will Rogers) studying in a disintegrating Berlin is detained and accused of spying by East Germany. Donovan is approached by the CIA and agrees to go to the Soviet Embassy in Berlin to negotiate an exchange of Abel for the American pilot. He agrees but insists on adding the student to the trade, a condition everyone around him believes will kill the proposition. Donovan won't be dissuaded and the second half of the film -- the Cold War showdown -- is riveting. This is a rich and fascinating tale, based on actual events and written for the screen by the Coen Brothers, masters of taut, complex narrative. Hanks appears comfortable in the role of this highly principled and selfless man -- he's no stranger to such parts, after all -- and delivers a performance that is assured and captivating.

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