Based on a true story, Spielberg’s new movie is powerful, gritty and political.
Set during the Cold War, it follows insurance lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks) as he’s offered a case unlike any other: defending a convicted Russian spy, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance). At first reluctant, Donovan accepts the case as the CIA starts to bear down on him and finds himself playing Devil’s advocate as he tries to defend his client against the entire country.
A family man, a man of values, Donovan believes that the only thing that matters is that Abel has not divulged any secrets, and so could potentially prove useful in a future prisoner exchange instead of being given the death penalty. He’s soon proven right as U2 pilot Francis Powers (Austin Stowell) is shot down over USSR air space and sentenced to life in prison, constantly questioned.
Simultaneously, as the Russians start building the wall in Berlin, an American student, Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers), is trying to get his girlfriend and her father to the West. Unfortunately he ends up stuck in the East and finds himself detained by the STASI.
Back in New York, Donovan receives a strange message that signals the beginning of intense negotiations. The CIA suddenly realise that they might need Donovan again, and ask him to handle the situation with the Russians in Berlin. Once there, he’s told specifically to only trade Abel for Powers, and to forget about Pryor. As Donovan enters the GDR and meets supposed lawyer Wolfgang Vogel (Sebastian Koch) and USSR man Ivan Schischkin (Mikhail Gorevoy), he realises he must work alone to exchange both Americans for one Russian.
As Tom Hanks himself put it during an interview with Graham Norton, “if you like movies about intense conversations, this one’s for you”. A big part of the movie is indeed spent watching guys talk, but it’s this back and forth, the political dialogue and hidden messages which make the plot move forward.
Hanks is excellent (as usual) and I’m delighted to say that Spielberg went out of his way to get a cast that’s actually American, Russian and German. Famous actors from all three countries converge in one swell swoop and give the movie an edge that many others have lost due to bad casting.
The scenes in Berlin also found resonance in me as I’d just been there a few months ago and could suddenly place all the streets, recognise the U-bahn stops and visualise the physical wall separating a street in two, now only visible as a long line through the entire city.
Bridge Of Spies is a masterpiece and should be enjoyed and discussed by everyone.
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