The Cold War was a unique time in US history because no battles were fought. However, that didn’t stop the US and Russia from targeting each other as enemies in an nuclear arms race. During this time, both countries had spies infiltrate the other in an attempt to gain crucial information to give their country the edge. Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies is inspired by true events and tells the story of the prisoner negotiations between the US and Russia.
James Donovan (Tom Hanks) is an insurance lawyer who is reluctantly forced to take on the case to defend alleged Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance). Wanting to uphold the law and the US Constitution, Donovan does everything he can to defend Able despite the overwhelming amount of evidence against him. Even when he manages to find a crack in the case, the judge and others turn it down and ignore it in order to appease the public who wants to see Abel killed for his crimes. However, Donovan has the foresight to see that Abel could be used as a bargaining chip in the event that a US spy is captured in Russian territory and convinces the judge to sentence him to life in prison instead (to the outrage of everyone in America).
Luckily for Abel, such an event happens. The Russians capture US pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) and the US wants him back. Since Donovan did such a great job (to the displeasure of the government) defending Abel, the CIA sends him to represent the US in the negotiation deal. Again, Donovan’s resolve to do the right thing is his first priority, so he also uses this opportunity as a chance to negotiate for the release of an American graduate student who was wrongfully captured by East Germany. The US government tells Donovan to ignore the student and just worry about freeing Powers, but Donovan thinks otherwise.
Despite having little action (as is expected in a film about the Cold War), Bridge of Spies is a thrilling, engaging, thought-provoking film. It shows the post-WWII devastation in Germany and how cutthroat many countries were to both their enemies and citizens during this time.
As the narrative mostly follows Donovan’s role in the events, Tom Hanks is the focus and he shines as our stalwart lead. That being said, Mark Rylance is even better as the quiet, resolute Abel. The relationship developed between these two men is also interesting to explore. Each man does his job and does it to the best of his ability. What’s so wrong with that?
The film’s message of standing up for what is right, even though it may be unpopular, will resonate with many audience members. It will especially resonate with Constitutionalists who want to see the Constitution upheld in its entirety, whether one is a traitor, Russian, or citizen.
Overall, Bridge of Spies is the perfect midcentury period film that one would expect to see in the fall (just in time for the awards season). I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rylance get a best supporting actor nomination. For a film about negotiations, it will keep you on the edge of your seat waiting to see what happens next.
Edited by: Hannah Wilkes