Bridge of Spies: a Steven Spielberg movie with Tom Hanks as James Donovan. Donovan is a lawyer representing insurance companies. (Now how many films have you seen where the good guy is an insurance defense lawyer?) Ethan and Joel Coen are the co-writers who revised Matt Charman’s original script. Based on real events that began in 1957, cheap Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance gives an excellent performance) is a Soviet spy living in New York City. He is arrested and the Justice Department wants the public and the international community to believe that Abel is receiving a fair trial. During a meeting that includes the law firm’s senior partner, played by Alan Alda, Donovan is asked to represent Abel. The CIA, an active player throughout the film, is not portrayed kindly. Donovan accepts the offer to represent Abel and the case ends up going all the way to the Supreme Court where Abel ultimately loses a 5-4 decision. But Bridge of Spies is not a film about lawyering. It is a tale about the Cold War, and its focus is on Donovan negotiating a trade in 1962 whereby Abel will be returned to the Soviet Union in exchange for the release of U-2 pilot, Gary Powers (Austin Stowell), and Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers), a 25 year old American student who was arrested in East Berlin shortly after the Berlin Wall was built.
The film includes a short clip of the Wall being built. The tense atmosphere of the Cold War is accurately conveyed. By agreeing to represent Abel, a Soviet spy, Donovan put his entire family at risk, and by earnestly defending his client, seriously jeopardized his career. However, Donovan’s outstanding success as a negotiator subdues the negative fallout. This is a story based on real events so you know the ending. Nevertheless, this film holds your interest for 141 minutes. The underlying themes and the points of emphasis are constitutional rights and the attorney/client privilege. As only Spielberg can do, these lofty concepts are entertainingly integrated into the storyline. The cinematography by Janusz Kaminski is excellent throughout the film. I think this movie will be nominated for a number of Oscars, with Spielberg at the front of the pack. He consistently strikes the correct mood, reminding us about an important piece of U.S. history while keeping us thoroughly entertained.