Bridge Of Spies

Movie:  Bridge Of Spies

Rating:  5 Stars (Out of 5)

Review:   In the 1950s the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was at its peak.  Nuclear arsenals were growing, political leaders for both countries rattled sabers, and the CIA and FBI were in a constant war with the Soviet’s KGB spy networks.  It was a time of great tension for the average American citizen, and schools held drills for children to get under their desks in case of a nuclear strike.

In 1957, the FBI had been watching a suspected Soviet spy in Brooklyn, NY, and finally sprung the trap and arrested him.  It turned out that they had snared Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a colonel in the KGB who was running a spy network in the U.S.  The American public, ever fearful of the Russians, demanded swift justice be dealt out to this spy.  A number of prominent attorneys were asked to represent Abel as his defense lawyer, but turned it down.  Finally, James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks), an attorney for an insurance firm who had experience as a prosecutor at the Nuremberg war crime trials, agreed to represent Rudolf Abel.

Fast forward to 1960, and the United States were using the secret U2 spy planes to make long flights over the Soviet Union to photograph their installations.  Flying at 70,000 feet, it was believed that the U2 planes were impervious to attack from the Russians.  This belief was shattered on May 1, 1960 when an SA-2 surface to air missile tore into the wing of the aircraft flown by Lt Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell), who was captured by the Soviets and put on trial as a spy.  The United States was embarrassed to have been caught using their spy planes, but officially left Lt Powers high and dry in the clutches of the Soviet Union.  Once again, James B. Donovan was called into service, this time to “unofficially” try and rescue Powers and bring him home.

This is a very powerful story based on real historical events, and the film  focuses on portrayals of the individuals that played key roles in the outcome of these events.  Tom Hanks is outstanding in his performance of James Donovan, a devoted family man, and a stalwart defender of the law.  He gives us insight into the character of Donovan as a man of the highest principles who would always do his duty to the utmost of his ability, even when it was unpopular with the government and the general public.  Don’t bother penciling in Tom Hanks’ name for a Best Actor nomination; use ink.   This is one of the best films of the year, and one of the best historical dramas ever filmed.

Acting Kudos:  Aside from Tom Hanks, there are other great performances.  Of particular note is Mark Rylance as Colonel Rudolf Abel.  Rylance plays the Soviet spy as a man of few words, but manages to convey him as a man of honor trying to do a difficult job for his country.  Abel also comes off as a man who is stoic, but with a dry sense of humor that is appreciated in such a serious role.   Rylance successfully pulls off a difficult task, which is to make a Soviet spy a real human being, and even likeable to some extent.

Dialogue Nuggets:  Donovan – “You can’t accuse Abel of being a traitor.  He’s not an American!

Donovan – “Frankly, everyone else has an interest in sending you to the electric chair, but you don’t seem alarmed.”  Abel – “Would it help?”

Judge to Donovan – “He will receive a capable defense, and God willing be convicted.”

CIA Agent – “The East German agenda and the Russian agenda may not be the same thing.

Donovan to East German – “Is there any outcome here where I will not be detained or shot?

Donovan – “Powers is the most hated man in America.  After Rudolf Abel…and me.”






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