HOLLYWOOD—Director Steven Spielberg and actor Tom Hanks have collaborated multiple times in the film arena. The duo first worked together on “Saving Private Ryan” and the success of that film led them to work again on “Catch Me If You Can” and “The Terminal.” Spielberg’s latest thriller “Bridge of Spies” marks the fourth collaboration.
The film chronicles the true story of lawyer James Donovan (Hanks) who worked with the Soviet Union to ensure the release of pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) whose U-2 spy plane was shot down. Donovan was also impelled to negotiate the release of a Soviet KGB spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) in exchange for Powers.
The bulk of the narrative revolves around the turmoil and chaos that Donovan’s decision to defend Abel has on his personal life and family. He accepts the case, but receives plenty of backlash when his colleagues, family and the public discover he is seeking an acquittal for Abel. It becomes apparent that Donovan realizes something that the rest of America at the time failed to see, that such a negotiation could become important in the near future.
On top of being crucified in the public eye, he receives death threats and even an attempt on his life and his family. This is America—when you are viewed as a traitor, the public spotlight is not so accepting, even if your reasoning is valid.
The opening of the film has that gotcha moment that keeps the audience hooked to the very end. We want to know precisely what that secret message he received on the park bench before FBI agents burst into his home. Rylance and Hanks deliver some top-notch performances, both worthy of potential awards fever in the coming weeks.
Spielberg as always, stages the action in a way that is easy to follow, gripping and leaves the audience to question what decision they might make in such a situation, especially when the number of supporters on your side is slim to none. Hanks proves once again his ability as an actor to carry a movie and to heighten the performances of the actors and actresses surrounding him including, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, Jesse Plemons and Rylance to name a few.
When it becomes apparent that the Soviet Union has captured two American citizens, in jumps Donovan with a risky negotiation to rescue not one life, but two, in exchange for the Soviet Union seeing Abel returned to their jurisdiction. He has to do a bit of dirty dealings against the East German government and the USSR to finalize the terms which unexpectedly explode.
The idea of pitting two countries against each other to allow another to walk away without any scratches is nothing new in the political arena, but “Bridge of Spies” showcases such tactics took place many years ago, not just in the present.
Spielberg and company do an exceptional job at crafting a highly charged drama in which our hero is perceived as an enemy, but soon resonates as a savior for his ability to negotiate a deal that seemed nearly impossible at first. “Bridge of Spies” is proof once again that just when one suspects that those smart, intelligent adult movies no longer exist, Spielberg and Hanks proves us wrong.