Tensions during the infamous Cold War were always in the red in both the United States and the former Soviet Union. From the early “Baby Boom” 50’s to the early turbulent 60’s, apprehensions of atomic war be-tween the two super powers was a social constant, as well as an unfortunate reality. During this time both sides were engaged in active espionage to ac-quire nuclear secrets.
Based upon the true story, faithfully adapted by sibling scribes Joel and Ethan Coen, Bridge of Spies kicks off in 1957 Brooklyn. Quiet, mild mannered Russian immigrant Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) spends most of his time canvassing the city and in his relatively unkempt apartment, painting New York scenery and portraits. He also happens to be a Russian spy. When the FBI crashes his abode and arrests him for espionage, insurance attorney, James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) of a prestigious law firm , is practically forced into the unenviable task of defending him.
Meanwhile, our own government is not exactly avoiding undercover operations, sending Air Force pilot Francis G. Powers (Austin Stowell) into harms way by flying a U-2 Reconnaissance plane over Russia to take photos. Regrettably, his “under cover” aircraft, despite it’s aerial capability, does not escape Russian missiles. He is shot down and captured. So they have one of ours, and vice versa.
Notwithstanding the movie trailer’s reveal, it really doesn’t take a genius to know where this is going. When Abel is convicted and given 30 years for spying against the United States, a ideal plan is put into motion to nego-tiate a swap. Abel for Powers. And naturally, our man Donovan, after all the anguish he’s gone through with his Russian client, is assigned to handle this human transaction too. How blessed can one man get?
Bridge of Spies is the fourth collaboration between Hollywood heavy hitters Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. It’s quite apparent after the war torn “Saving Private Ryan”, the comedic “Catch Me If You Can, and the more tempered “The Terminal”, that when the two get together, they make exceptional films. Especially when their based on true events.
Once again, employing his faithful cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and editor Michael Kahn, Spielberg transports us to another time in America’s past where you inherently live and move within the era itself. 12 Years a Slave production designer Adam Stockhausen’s stirring foreign locations intensify the conflict between Communism and Democracy in a world on the edge of nuclear war.
Hanks’ Donovan is your model American attorney, believing everyone deserves a defense. Unfortunately, and yet understandably, every other A-merican completely disregards this idea when it comes to a Russian spy. So it’s inevitable that he and his family suffer ridicule, and some slightly traumatic episodes. He can practically be labeled as attorney/ secret agent in that he can’t even tell his wife and family what our CIA is saddling him to accomplish.
Donovan’s client, Abel, wonderfully played by celebrated stage actor Mark Rylance, is so absolutely pastoral, you would not think this Russian immigrant could be a spy. He is completely unassuming, so innocent loo-king, you may actually feel a little sorry for him when he’s busted. His countenance rarely changes, despite his obvious guilt and upcoming travels a-broad. Knowing full well what his lawyer will go through, he tells him, “You should be careful.”
Bridge of Spies courts the necessary drama of a matter-of-fact scenario without being blatantly pretentious. In other words, it’s authentic. And like Spielberg’s treatment of Oscar Schindler, who saved so many Jewish people under Nazi rule, Spies is an outstanding addition to his cinematic pantheon, dealing with another real hero we all need to remember.