Once again two-time Oscar-winner Tom Hanks plays an every-man caught up in extraordinary circumstances in “Bridge of Spies,” a cold-war thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat.
Former Nuremberg-war crimes lawyer James Donovan (Hanks), now an insurance lawyer, is persuaded by his law firm and the CIA to defend captured Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) in a preordained public trial to demonstrate a Soviet spies can get a fair defense in the U.S. Nod, nod. Wink, wink.
However, Donovan’s law firm and the CIA are shocked at his rigorous defense using the Constitution as legal strategy. The public, friends and colleagues despise Donovan, even though he is not a commie sympathizer. He’s an ethical lawyer (Surprise! Surprise!) who believes giving his client the best defense possible.
Donovan loses of course, but convinces the court to spare the mild-mannered Abel from the death penalty. During the course of the trial, the pair form a heartfelt relationship proving that enemies can become friends. Donovan argues that one day the Russians might want to trade a captured American spy for Abel.
That was 1957.
Fast-forward to 1963 the height of the cold war. U-2 jet pilot Gary Powers is shot down over the Soviet Union and captured by the Russians. Seeing the errors of their ways, the CIA, is now glad Donovan fought so rigorously to save Abel’s life.
The CIA asks Donovan to negotiate and arrange an exchange: Powers for Able, with the stipulation that the CIA will disavow any involvement. Donovan working supposedly alone, tells the Russians he wants to include a captured American grad student who was caught attempting to get his East German girlfriend into West Berlin. And so the negotiations begin.
Even through the audience knows the outcome of this true-life story, director Steven Spielberg keeps the drama taunt and tantalizing. Instead of opting for an action-packed spy vs. spy James Bond adventure, the interaction between the characters drives the picture. “Bridge of Spies” is a terrific movie.
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