Thursday, July 14, 2022

Tonight's Movie: Bridge of Spies (2015)

This week I finally caught up with the fact-based suspense film BRIDGE OF SPIES (2015), which I didn't get a chance to see on its initial release.

It took a few years for me to finally see the movie, but I really enjoyed it. Many of my U.S. history courses in college were focused on the Cold War, so it's an era I've long found of interest.

BRIDGE OF SPIES -- what a great title! -- is based on the 1960 Francis Gary Powers incident, when a U.S. spy plane was shot down in Soviet territory and the pilot (played by Austin Stowell) was taken prisoner.

In a parallel story in the United States, insurance attorney James Donovan (Tom Hanks) is requested to defend a Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), in court proceedings. Donovan is chosen in part because of his background working at the Nuremberg trials.

Serving as Abel's attorney and ensuring he receives a fair trial makes life difficult and even dangerous for Donovan, his wife (Amy Ryan), and family. Even Donovan's partner (Alan Alda), who initially insists taking the case is Donovan's patriotic duty, wants him to back off after Abel is convicted and objects to Donovan pursuing any appeals. Donovan, however, is committed to following American legal principles to the end. He believes that showing the world the fairness of the U.S. legal system is all to the good.

Donovan makes the case to the sentencing judge (Dakin Matthews) that Abel not be executed so that the U.S. will have a card to play with the Soviets if needed in the future. He proved to be prescient, as in 1962 the Soviets signaled through back channels that they were interested in a prisoner swap, Abel for Powers.

The U.S. could not take an official position on the exchange for various reasons and had Donovan be the front man for the negotiations. Donovan also worked to secure the release of an American student, Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers), who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and imprisoned in East Berlin.

On February 10, 1962, Powers and Abel were exchanged at the Glienicke Bridge in Germany, while Pryor was simultaneously released at the Checkpoint Charlie crossing between East and West Berlin.

I only know the basic outlines of the Powers incident, so in this review I'm responding to BRIDGE OF SPIES solely as a film and not addressing its historical accuracy; it's common for historical dramas to fudge facts for dramatic effect.

As a movie, it works extremely well, with a gripping storyline and an always-interesting performance by Tom Hanks. He's great as a successful insurance attorney who suddenly finds himself caught up in world events. The relationship he develops with his client is enjoyable to observe, especially the always-calm Abel's response "Would it help?" when Donovan asks if he worries. 

Rylance is also good as the seemingly passive but very observant Abel, who reminds Donovan that there are men doing his job for the U.S. and we would want them treated well if caught.

The movie runs long at 142 minutes; I would have trimmed down some of the Powers scenes for a brisker running time, as the film is always more interesting when Hanks is onscreen. For the most part the film is engrossing throughout.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG-13 for language along with some non-graphic scenes of torture and violence. It's a pretty mild PG-13 and I would suggest it's probably fine for kids 10 or 11 and up if they're interested in the subject matter; my own kids who loved history and thrillers would have liked it at that age, while others wouldn't be ready for it until they're older.

BRIDGE OF SPIES was directed by Steven Spielberg and filmed by Janusz Kaminski. Location filming included the bridge from the actual event.

The movie is available in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack or on a single DVD.


Anonymous Barry Lane said...

I like the film a lot, but there are moments in the narrative, despite Donovan clearly being quite a guy, that Spielberg felt the need, wrongly I believe in exaggerating reality. There was no attack on Jim Donovan's family home. None. In our time, who knows, in his, no. When walking in eastern Germany he was not molested or intimidated by anyone, but he did catch a cold. I remember the Gary Powers story, and this is it, but without detail, Hanks is the central figure, so minimizing Powers worked for me.

8:02 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

All very interesting! Thank you. I had a feeling some things could have been added for dramatic effect, as often happens in this type of film. Interested in the info you shared.

Best wishes,

8:08 PM  
Anonymous Barry Lane said...

Your feeling came across and it was more than right, factually and dramatically.

8:59 AM  
Blogger Professor Batty said...

Mark Rylance said that the Coen brothers reworked the script, and made it considerably better.

6:32 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for adding that insight, very interesting.

Best wishes,

6:39 PM  

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