The combination of Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks usually results in an automatic masterpiece, and the pair’s latest project is no exception. Bridge of Spies is a fascinating and thrilling insight into one of the lesser known, but incredible true stories from the Cold War.
Lawyer James Donovan (Hanks) is tasked with defending the Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylace), when US officials catch him. As a result of saving Abel from the death penalty, Donovan swiftly becomes a hated man in the US, but the outcome soon works in the country’s favour.
When the pilot of an American U2 spy plane is downed and captured whilst flying over the Soviet Union, an agreement with the CIA and KGB is put in place to facilitate an exchange between Abel and the captured pilot, Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell).
As a result, Donovan is the man tasked with travelling to East Berlin in order to make sure the exchange goes swimmingly following his defence of Abel.
Spielberg’s movie gives a clear indication of the vast amounts of negotiations, usually done in bad faith, in order to get their pilot home. The tension plagued throughout the film is based on the consequences of the exchange going array at a time when both nations were one slip away from serious ramifications. Throw in the fact that the US was also seeking the return of an additional captive in the form of student, Frederic Pryor, and things suddenly became a lot more difficult.
Hanks gives a typical assured performance as the confident but under pressure James Donovan. But Rylace’s reserved and quiet portrayal of Russian spy Abel makes for a fascinating watch and despite his occupation, you certainly find yourself emotionally attached to this intriguing character.
Although the movie is based on a tale of such high stakes, the subtle comedic writing of the Coen brothers is evident throughout, no more so when we are introduced to Abel’s fake, extravagant family. Furthermore, it’s always slightly heart-warming when repeatedly throughout the movie, Abel is asked by Donovan why he’s not worried, the spy would simply respond, “Would it help?” – typical of Rylace’s gentle, calculated character.
Bridge of Spies is an incredibly tense, intriguing and satisfying watch, headed by masters of their trade. An important story that perhaps has gone somewhat under the radar is beautifully told in a confident and self-assured manor by Spielberg and Hanks.