Spielberg has given us another wonderful film in Bridge of Spies. Based on actual events it is taut and thought-provoking. If you think that means boring, think again. It is a riveting story which involves the audience from beginning to end.
This is the story of James Donovan, a NYC attorney, whose high-powered firm represents big insurance companies. One day he goes into the office and is told the senior partner wants to see him immediately. He is told the government has requested him to represent a Soviet spy they've apprehended. Donovan was on the prosecution team at the German (Nazi) war crime trials in Nuremberg. The CIA thinks he would be a great lawyer for Soviet Spy Rudolf Abel. Trouble is, Donovan IS a great lawyer, and takes the case to heart, giving zealous representation of his client, whom he comes to like.
When sentencing time comes, he visits the judge and pleads the case against the death penalty for his client. I won't spoil the story for you by telling you his reason for this, but it proves sound as well as eerily prophetic.
Naturally, Donovan makes himself and his family a target of the public outcry by his position. But he continues on his crusade to follow our Constitution and give his client a fair trial and later an appeal.
There is also a subplot about the U2 spy plane debacle which centered on pilot Francis Gary Powers. He crashed on his mission over the Soviet Union and was captured and held as an American spy.
The two governments discuss exchanging Powers for Abel. Naturally, they get Donovan to do the negotiating. When he gets to Berlin, where the wall has just gone up separating the eastern part of the city from the west, he finds the East Germans hold an American student who was caught behind the wall.
He becomes determined to get both men home, which all of the intelligence people, ours and theirs, say is not possible...
I won't reveal anything else about the plot. Don't want to spoil it for you.
Tom Hanks does a wonderful job as Donovan. He has aged (haven't we all???) But he retains his extraordinary talent to create an everyman character with many layers under the surface. This is not a showy performance. It's not that kind of character. But he is magnificent. I wouldn't be surprised if there's another Oscar nomination in it for him. Let me tell you something as an actor, anybody can emote loud and broad, but it takes a real master to use subtle facial, body, and vocal clues to reach the film audience, eliciting emotion from them. Hanks is such a master.
Also notable is Mark Rylance as Soviet Rudolf Abel, a talented artist as well as an enigma. I grew to really like him during the course of the film, as does Donovan.
Amy Ryan plays Donovan's wife, Mary, who worries for her family but trusts her husband. Ms. Ryan holds her own in the talented cast.
Austin Powell plays the hapless young pilot Francis Gary Powers, for whom nothing goes right on his doomed mission. He turns in a layered performance as the ace who is caught by circumstances he never anticipated.
Sebastian Koch plays Wolfgang Vogel, an east German attorney who meets with Donovan before seeming to set him up to fail. The character must be unreadable in order to work in the course of the plot. Koch plays the difficult man with ease.
A film is a collaboration of many artists working together. The Coen brothers were co-writers on the script. But the film has the Spielberg stamp, we've come to know. It is a well-made film with incredible attention to detail.
I read a review in the paper before seeing the film today. It said something about the audience should pay attention to the early banter in the film, as it will come to have significance at the end. Now that I've seen Bridge of Spies, I know what the reviewer meant. I give you the same advice.
There is a lovely bit at the climax of the film.
Steven Spielberg is arguably our best American director today in his meticulous methods of film-making. His attention to detail is incredible whether it is in Jaws, ET the Extraterrestrial, Schindler's List, The Color Purple, War of the Worlds, or in Bridge of Spies. His films shine in their humanity.
For us older folks who remember these events, the film will spark memories of our reactions to what is now history. For the rest of you it will show you what life was like in those gut-wrenching days when we anticipated Soviet hydrogen bombs coming to incinerate us with little to no warning.
Don't miss this film. You won't be sorry.
Until next time...