Movie Review: “Bridge of Spies”

Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, Austin Stowell
Steven Spielberg

Certain things go together. Peanut butter and chocolate. Jack and ginger (yes, ginger, not Coke. Try it). “Bridge of Spies,” on the other hand, is proof positive that Steven Spielberg (the film’s director), and Joel and Ethan Coen (the film’s co-screenwriters), absolutely do not go together. In fact, this would have been a much better movie had the Coens directed it themselves. There are these subtle, effective and surprisingly funny moments that are clearly the Coens’ work, and then Spielberg steps in and drowns everything else in syrup. That it remains a watchable movie is in spite of Spielberg’s efforts, not because of them.

It is the late ‘50s, and Cold War paranoia is at an all-time high. The FBI captures Brooklyn resident, and Russian spy, Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance), and the government assigns a local law firm to represent him. The case is assigned to James Donovan (Tom Hanks), even though he is primarily an insurance lawyer. James quickly realizes that no one is interested in giving Rudolph a fair trial, which only leads James to fight even harder to get him one, regardless of the hardships that may mean for him and his family. He loses, but successfully lobbies to pardon Rudolph from getting the death penalty, arguing that the U.S. would be wise to keep him around as a bargaining chip.

Sure enough, James proves to be right, as American pilot Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) is captured after his U-2 spy plane is bombed out of the sky by the Russians, and he is sentenced to hard labor in a Russian prison. The U.S. government asks James if he can negotiate an unofficial trade with the Russians to swap Rudolph for Powers. James is game, but he wants to sweeten the deal by also getting the Russians to convince the German Democratic Republic – who are building the wall between East Berlin and West Berlin as these events are taking place – to also release Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers), an economics student that the GDR has falsely accused of espionage in the hopes that they will get invited to the political big boy table.

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