Bridge of Spies is a 2015 film by Steven Spielberg starring Tom Hanks. The movie is based on true events where James B. Donovan, an insurance lawyer from Brooklyn gets chosen to defend an accused Soviet spy. Determined to uphold the justice system of the country he loves, James fights public opinion and even puts his safety in jeopardy to do the right thing. Little did James know, his involvement would be much greater than simply defending an accused Soviet spy.
Bridge of Spies is Steven Spielberg’s latest movie starring Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance is the (apparently) true story of a Soviet spy getting caught in America and Hanks is given the task of defending him against a justice system that is bound to be corrupt in this case. Spielberg made it like the typical American movie where the Soviets are the bad guys. But he made Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance’s character) into a sympathetic character. He just was a sweet harmless guy who didn’t seemed to be phased at all by the circumstances around him, about how the entire country wanted him killed and to convict him to the highest order possible. No matter what it was he just seemed like ‘eh no biggie, whatever’ like it didn’t even affect him. James Donovan (Tom Hanks’ character) had all these people around him saying things like ‘Why are you defending this guy? Let’s just get this over quick and send him to the electric chair!’ And he seemed like the only one who cared about justice (deflategate reference coming soon). Everyone was jumping to this conclusion that what this guy did was so terrible that we must castrate him to send a message. Now, they don’t actually delve into what he did wrong. I guess he had some codes on a piece of paper about something but he hid it away so that the police couldn’t find it.
But things get interesting when a U.S. soldier and a U.S. college student get caught in a very dangerous environment at the Berlin border. And did those kids have it tough in prison or what! I mean they would wake Francis Powers (played by Austin Stowell), who was the soldier kid, to blast a light into his eyes and dump buckets of ice water on his face. Spielberg clearly didn’t portray the Russians as kind to their prisoners. Same goes for Doug Forrester up (played by Billy Magnussen), the U.S. foreign exchange student (who idiotically is studying how communism is shitty at the border of Russia). He gets put in a tiny little pen with security armed with guns ready to shoot him at an order. But Abel is treated rather nicely under custody. He gets his music he wants to listen to, cigarettes to smoke. It’s not a weekend at the Marriott, but it’s not too bad. He never had to worry about getting shot inside his cell unlike Powers and Forrester. That was interesting to me cause it seemed like Spielberg is taking another shot at Germany and Russia as to how badly they treat American prisoners. As if to say we the United States are so much nicer to our prisoners. We don’t torture any of them. Sure everyone outside the prison wants to kill this guy, but we still treat him like a human being.
There’s a part of the movie where Donovan goes to Berlin to negotiate a trade for the two American prisoners and talk about the last place on earth you’d wanna be at the wrong place at the wrong time. I mean that wall is a death zone for anybody! Whether you’re too close to it on the right side or the wrong side some shit is gonna go down. So, when Donovan is trying to find out where to meet these guys to find a way to swap Abel for these two kids he has to walk through the streets of Berlin with no security, map, or even coat (eventually). He’s walking around and a couple of these guys come up to him starting to talk shit to him and Donovan just wants directions. So these guys take his coat in exchange for directions. This was interesting to me cause it was like Spielberg was showing how fucked up the people of Germany are to treat people this way.
Overall, I really liked this movie. Classic Spielberg picture with top notch acting and a contemporary style that never gets old. 10/10
Quick Take: I really liked Bridge of Spies, if you’re on the fence about seeing this movie I recommend you just go see it. It is a suspenseful dramatic thriller that is well acted and has a very engaging story.
Bridge of Spies is an engaging dramatic thriller directed by Steven Spielberg and written in part by the Coen brothers. The movie plays up to James B. Donovan’s (Tom Hanks) involvement in the defense (and later exchange) of accused Russian spy Rudolf Abel. The film begins with Donovan working an insurance case, but anyone who had seen the previews already knew how involved Donovan would be in the spy situation. The lead up is necessary to help the audience see that Donovan is a capable attorney and wordsmith who is very good at negotiating.
Once Donovan agrees to defend Abel (the spy) and does so competently and passionately we see reaction from the public that isn’t so far-fetched. Donovan’s house even gets attacked via drive-by shooting as a result of him taking this case. It must be a terrible job being a public defender or a bar selected attorney (I know there is a name for this but I don’t know it), these people are tasked to defend accused criminals who in many cases are widely hated (I.E. The Boston Bomber), if they defend their client successfully the public is outraged and if they lose, the public is still not thrilled with them and on top of it they get a loss in court.
When James B. Donovan was selected to defend Rudolf Abel he is pretty much told to provide the guise of a competent defense and that he will lose in the end. A staunch supporter of the constitution, Donovan does his best to defend Abel, not given adequate time to formulate a defense (would it really have mattered?) the jury convicts Abel on all counts. After some pleading and extra work, Donovan at least is able to save Rudolf from getting the electric chair under the notion that maybe in the future they would need to trade with the Soviets for an American prisoner. Abel is sentenced to 30 years in jail for being convicted as a Soviet spy. The movie portrays Abel as a mild mannered – wouldn’t hurt a fly – type of person, following him throughout his day we see him painting several pictures and only just before he’s captured do we see him open an encoded message confirming to the viewer that he is actually a spy. The argument against Rudolf was that he was a traitor to the U.S. however Donovan plainly pointed out that he’s not a traitor because he’s not an American citizen, he really was a soldier doing his job. Regardless of his guilt the viewer is never really against Rudolf maybe had I lived during the height of the cold-war I’d feel differently but I definitely think the director and writers want us to be on side with Rudolf. The way we’re supposed to look at this is like he’s a soldier, captured now a prisoner of war.
Not long after Abel’s trial ends, an American U2 pilot is taken captive by the Soviets after his plane is shot down. The pilot Francis Gary Powers was supposed to do two things 1) Blow up the plane and 2) Kill himself if capture seemed inevitable. Powers did neither of these things, as a result he wound up captured and tortured by the Soviets. In the movie the U.S. did no torturing of Abel, he had his clean cell, his cigarettes and paper to draw as well as his athletic time. Of course we’re lead to believe the CIA pressed Abel hard for information but we never saw any form of torture. For the entire time Powers is held captive he is shown to be tortured in brutal ways. Given this, the US is eager to trade Abel for Powers and the Soviets are eager to get Rudolf back, James B. Donovan was right!
The movie does a great job outlining how dire the conditions on the East German side of Berlin had become when compared to the free West Berlin, the buildings on the east were in total ruin, and gangs roamed the streets, very little in the way of personal freedoms existed. We get many a glimpse of this reality while James B. Donovan risks capture to negotiate the exchange of Abel for Powers. Being the slick negotiator he is Donovan makes is an absolute must that in exchange for the return of Rudolf Abel the U.S. gets both Francis Powers and an American University student who stupidly crossed into East Berlin right as they were closing the wall. Honestly, I would have left him over there, I don’t have much sympathy for people who do stupid things willingly, for some reason this student thought he could get his professor and his daughter out of East Berlin with ease. Obviously the student was unable to get back to the West and is captured by the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Despite the CIA ordering Donovan otherwise he presses forward with his demands of a two-for-one exchange (with the Soviets and the GDR).
It’s really amazing that this was all based on a true story, of course many of the little details I’m sure were fabricated but the fact that a US citizen was able to orchestrate trade between three parties (who don’t like each other) to get two people back in exchange for one is really astounding.
The movie never really had slow parts, there was no action but the story flowed well. The acting was top-notch and the set-pieces were well made, everything looked genuine. I especially liked that the filming style made it appear like the movie was shot back in the 50s (you’ll know what I mean when you see the first couple minutes).
I really enjoyed Bridge of Spies, I’d highly recommend anyone interested in the Cold War or dramatic thrillers in general give this a watch. Though enjoyable on the big screen I definitely don’t think this is a must to see in the theatre. Watching it on you TV at home would be just as enjoyable in my opinion. – 10/10