The movie “Bridge of Spies”, starring Tom Hanks and directed by Steven Spielberg does not break new movie ground.
It simply does an excellent job of telling a true story. But would you expect anything less from Hanks and Spielberg?
Hanks portrays James Donovan, an insurance lawyer with a good life in late 1950s New York City. That changes when his firm asks him to defend Rudolph Abel, a Soviet spy arrested in 1957.
Donovan has little or no criminal law experience but is determined to give Abel a good defense when public opinion, the media and Donovan’s own peers in the judicial system want to get the trial over and strap Abel in the electric chair. Donovan believes that by defending Abel to the best of his ability that it will show a strength of the United States not seen in the Soviet Union.
This decision makes life tough for Donovan and his family. Donovan, showing great foresight, is able to convince the judge to sentence Abel to 30 years instead of death.
Donovan believes Abel (Mark Rylance) is just a soldier doing his job and thinks that Abel might be able to be swapped in the future for an American that the United States might want back.
And that happens. U.S. Air Force pilot Frances Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) is shot down in 1960 while flying his U-2 spy plane over the Soviet Union. There is also the case of Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers), an American economics graduate student arrested and jailed in East Germany.
Donovan is sent over to East Germany to try and negotiate Power’s release and he insists that Pryor also be part of any deal.
What makes “Bridges of Spies” such a quality movie is its straightforwardness. The tension of the Cold War era, the danger Donovan was in and his will to get Powers and Pryor back is simply told. I always know I am seeing a good movie when I see that the actor is no longer an actor, but the character he or she is portraying.
And the key to good direction is when the person watching the movie really feels that he or she is in the room where the scene is taking place or the era it’s taking place. Donovan had to enter the world of East Germany that was slowly crushing the will of its people as the construction of the Berlin Wall was taking place. And the whole of Germany and Europe was not that far removed from World War II. Where Donovan goes is a desolate place and it’s the middle of winter.
Again, “Bridge of Spies” doesn’t reinvent the movie wheel. Hanks and Spielberg did their jobs and did them with distinction and the story of James Donovan got the treatment it deserved.
RATING — **** stars
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