Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Movie Review: Bridge of Spies (2015)

Bridge of Spies (2015) directed by Steven Spielberg

Tom Hanks plays Brooklyn lawyer James Donovan who gets drawn into the Cold War. He is selected by the bar association to represent Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a Soviet spy active in New York City. Donovan was chosen because no one wanted to defend Abel. Being an honest, honorable, and precise man, Donovan gives Abel the best defense he can, in spite of encouragement from family and the firm to get it done as quickly as possible. Donovan builds a little friendship with Abel, enough to find out that the U. S. government did try to get information from Abel or turn him into a double agent. Abel keeps quiet and refuses to cooperate, telling Donovan that the Americans have men just like Abel in Russia doing the same thing. The evidence is fairly overwhelming and the judge is completely unsympathetic, so the guilty verdict is no surprise.

Meanwhile, the U2 spy plane program has started. American pilots in Pakistan are flying U2 planes at 70,000 feet over Soviet airspace, taking pictures of facilities and other locations of interest to the U. S. Government. One of the planes is shot down and the pilot, Francis Gary Powers, is captured by the Soviets. Powers goes through a quick trial to parade him in front of cameras, showing how evil America is.

The two stories intersect when Donovan receives a letter from East Germany. Someone claiming to be Abel's wife has written and is hinting that they are willing to trade Powers for Abel. Donovan is drawn into the negotiations as an unofficial representative of the U. S. Government. That means he has to travel to Berlin just as the Berlin Wall is being constructed. An American graduate student is caught behind the eastern side of the wall and is held by the communist East German government. Donovan decides he wants to trade Abel for both Powers and the student, though the respective governments are not interested in extra complications. What follows is an exciting struggle by Donovan to get both the Americans home.

The movie is a sort of Cold War version of High Noon. Donovan is a man of integrity and uprightness, even in the face of social pressure to do the expedient and shallowly patriotic thing (either letting Abel go to the electric chair like the Rosenbergs did or accepting just Powers and not the student too). While he agrees the Cold War is a war of cultures, he insists that the Americans hold to their principles, like due process for Abel and protecting all lives including the student's. Otherwise, how is American culture different from Soviet culture?

Donovan is also intelligent and disciplined, able to read situations and either coax or strong-arm others into doing the right thing. Often, such actions are not convenient for Donovan but he does them anyway. He's an inspiring character.

Highly recommended!

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